Graduate Program

350:641 - Seminar: Victorian Fiction and the Organic Ideal

Course No:  350:641
Index: 18110
Distribution Requirement:  A4
Monday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 207

Seminar:  Victorian Fiction and the Organic Ideal

John Kucich

The course takes a fresh look at organic social models (i.e., idealizations of a finely graduated social ordering, usually but not necessarily hierarchical, in which distinct social positions are imagined as integrated within a common set of national priorities). Organicism was central to the Victorian literary mainstream, but it has been neglected in the wake of 1970s critiques of its supposed anti-egalitarianism and reactionary middle-class ideology—Raymond Williams called it “a lulling illusion.” This course reevaluates Victorian organicism in the light of recent theoretical work on class and social history, which enables us to widen the context for organicism and to view its mid-19th c forms as modernizations of traditional social vocabularies—modernizations that often sought to facilitate inclusiveness—rather than simply as a nostalgic regression to authoritarian ideology. In this light, organicism can be understood as one of many forms of Victorian populism, most of which integrated older vocabularies of social consent and ordered rank within newly emergent ideas about equal representation and economic self-interest. We will pose such questions as: What strategies of inclusiveness (private or collective) did organic models encourage, and what cultural legacies did these strategies entail? Which social subject(s) did organic models actually privilege? What can feminist theory teach us about the gendering of the organic social body? Did organic models insist on somatized or affective social bonds or did they imply a social psychology or mentality? What was the relation between different ideologically-inflected forms of organicism (including its nineteenth-century socialist incarnations)? We’ll end the term examining the role of organic thought in British imperial culture. Texts will include a few readings in social history and theory, including essays by David Cannadine, Patrick Joyce, James Vernon, and Richard Price. Primary texts will include brief selections from Thomas Carlyle, James Stuart Mill, William Morris, Beatrice Webb, and L. T. Hobhouse. Fiction might include Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop, Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford, George Eliot, Adam Bede, Margaret Oliphant, Miss Marjoribanks, William Morris, News from Nowhere, Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the “Narcissus, Rudyard Kipling, Kim, and possibly others.