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Spring 2013 Undergraduate English Courses

350:436 Writing the "Home Epic": Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

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01- Writing the "Home Epic":  Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

Henry James referred to Victorian novels as “loose baggy monsters.”  They are, notoriously, not short.  But Victorian writers, working under vastly different conditions of publication and audience expectations, and producing their work in a climate where the competition was print media and popular theatre—often street theatre—made their novels surveys of modern life, comprehensive investigations into the conditions of England and its inhabitants—or at least those people and classes that the novelists choose as their focus.

We will read, slowly, two of the “great,” and greatly capacious, novels of the period:  Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1852-1853) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-1872).  Alongside these novels we will consider documents of the period focusing on the social conditions of England in the first forty years of Queen Victoria’s reign, especially documents about the role of women and the home in the nation’s life; critical writings by Victorians on the nature of the novel; critics’ responses to these novels; and critical questions about the nature of Victorian “realism.”  We will also consider essential critical statements about these novels produced in the later 20th-Century and currently.

Requirements: Attendance and participation in all class sessions, plus assigned oral presentations. 

Writing:  two short discussions (3-4 pages each) and a term essay (20 or more pages) informed by critical and theoretical discussions of the Victorian novel and of these novels specifically.