Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

B1  5/30-7/07  MTWTH 10:30AM-12:25 PM  CAC  04335  WILLIAMS, A.  FH-A2

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, less than 40% of English women and less than 60% of British men were literate. By century’s end, Britain achieved nearly universal literacy. Early debates about allowing women and working class populations to read at all morphed into debates about what they read, as actual literacy came to organize what we now call “cultural literacy.” The popularity of the novel and other forms of fiction, as well as new publication formats that disseminated them affordably, both stimulated and benefited from this trend in reaching an increasingly large reading marketplace. How is literary form shaped by this historical trajectory? How do novelists address audiences belonging to such an expansive public? Did literature not only document but also shape the development of reading? What are the political and social implications of the relationship between literary form and the reading public?

This class asks and answers these questions by reading a selection of texts we now regard as “classics” as well as texts that did not make into the literary canon, but that either were widely popular or written in populist spirit in the nineteenth century. Authors may include Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, George Gissing, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Marie Corelli. 

 

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