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Fall 2016 Undergraduate English Courses: Nineteenth Century

358:436 The Prince and the Detective: Victorian Short Fiction

01    MW6  CAC  14253   HARRIS  MU-107

  The Prince and the Detective: Victorian Short Fiction
 We are accustomed to thinking of the Victorian period as the age of the sprawling, triple-decker novel; in this seminar, we will be charting an alternative approach, focused on the period’s equally prolific, and often overlooked, short fiction. Much of this material remains unfamiliar, even to scholars of the period. Those of us who know and love Jane Eyre may be surprised to learn that Charlotte Brontë also wrote, in her childhood, a series of fantasy stories about the imaginary land of Angria. Elizabeth Gaskell, known to many of us as the author of political novels about the working class, like Mary Barton, was also an avid writer of Gothic ghost stories. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, also created the exotic adventures of Prince Florizel of Bohemia; Oscar Wilde, the celebrated wit and satirist, wrote socially conscious fairy tales for children. Many of these works are formally inventive: involving experiments with interlinking stories, multiple protagonists, and unusual narrators. Collectively, they offer us a new vantage point on Victorian fiction, and new ways of looking at its most beloved authors.

The Victorian period gave us some of our most popular narrative genres, including the ghost story, the detective story, and science fiction. We will need to think about the genres of Victorian short fiction, and why certain genres may tend to gravitate towards shorter forms. What kind of narrative possibilities and constraints did the short story represent for Victorian authors? How did various genres exploit or grapple with these constraints? In the process, we will need to distinguish between a variety of different short fictional forms current in the period, including the tale, the novella, and the sketch, and think in turn about their relationship to other kinds of short prose, such as journalistic or travel writing. We will examine the influence of fables and fairy tales, as well as the impact of French and American models, through the work of writers like Guy de Maupassant and Edgar Allan Poe. How did the forms, techniques, and genres of short fiction influence the development of the Victorian novel?

Our authors may include Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vernon Lee, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Andrew Lang.

Assignments will likely include short reading responses, class participation, a short midterm paper, and a final paper.