The Other Victorians is an advanced undergraduate seminar (with a corresponding graduate seminar) taught in the Georgetown University English Department in Fall 2013, by Nathan K. Hensley. The course takes its name from Steven Marcus’ great monograph of the same title, and the rebuttal it received in Michel Foucault’s A History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Our object of study will be nineteenth century culture, theories of ideology, and narratives of cultural containment; at issue is how one mass-mediated society, the Victorian one, used literary form to bring new genres of being into the world. Here is the description from our syllabus:
THE OTHER VICTORIANS
From doilies and ornate wallpaper to the stiff-necked curates and gossiping parlor ladies of Masterpiece Theater, the Victorian period (1837-1901) has long been stereotyped as a Great Age of Conformity. Criticism has replayed these popular images of Victorian orthodoxy by charting the powerful forces of normalization in this era: the rise of the middle class, the ascent of commodity capitalism, the establishment of modern gender hierarchies, and the consolidation of heteronormative “decency,” to name just a few.
But where canonical approaches to Victorian literature and culture have focused on literature’s ability to produce sameness, this class will focus on difference — and on how literary thinking helped imagine it. Rather than attending to those modes of Victorian life most characteristic of the age, we will explore forms of being and thinking that were counternormative, antihegemonic, insurgent, queer, and strange. Our concern, in other words, will be on the possibility for otherness in an age of homogenization. When mass culture and social sameness threaten to subsume all difference, how might literature imagine the new?
Because these questions are simultaneously historical and theoretical, our readings will be organized along two axes, the balance shifting in the graduate and undergraduate sections. First, we will examine literary and critical writing from the Victorian era: canonical novels, key poetry, political theory, and items of erotica, ephemera, philosophy, and orientalism. Second we will sample modern thinking about difference by literary and cultural critics from a variety of traditions.