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Fall 2017 Undergraduate English Courses

358:206 The Devil in the Details: Detail in Victorian Literature and Fine Arts

01  MTH2   CAC  15015   SC-214

George Eliot faithfully describing the daily duties of domestic life, John Ruskin ecstatically dwelling on one of three hundred tiny figures in a single cathedral gate, John Everett Millais meticulously painting a single bleeding hole in the hand of the Christ-child: the vivid details in Victorian literature and fine arts attest to an age that was fascinated by the immense importance of insignificant things. As the Victorians began to question the absolute divide between the small and the significant, they created works in which supposedly trivial features reveal entirely different perspectives, transforming the reader’s understanding of the story. We may think we know what a detail is, but to the Victorians, to (re)create something in detail meant making a deliberate and provocative statement about how things should be shown to the world—visually or in the imaginative world of a book. In this seminar, we will examine Victorian stories, poems, and works of art, and ask what drove these artists and writers to create details with such meticulous effort and care.

Authors will include John Ruskin, George Eliot, Robert Browning, and Oscar Wilde, among others. We will also study developments in the visual arts such as the Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic, and the Arts and Crafts movements. Our focus will be on the relation between the detailed styles of these works, and their overall form and choice of content. Last but not least, we will endeavor to recapture some of the sheer joy and pleasure with which the Victorians created.

Course requirements: students will be required to attend our sessions regularly and to actively participate in our discussions, to write one-page response papers and a final paper (5-7 double-spaced pages), and a final examination.