358:336 Nineteenth Century British Fiction

01   CAC   MW6   12638   JEN  SC-116

Reading and Performing in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Charles Dickens once said, “Every writer of fiction, though he may not adopt the dramatic form, writes in effect for the stage.” If he was right, the theatrical culture unique to the nineteenth century also permeated its fiction. Dickens and his contemporaries wrote for an audience that was endlessly attending the theater as well as reading their novels, sometimes even seeing stage adaptations of those novels before the authors were quite finished with them. Theater became an important theme for the novel, even as the novel was developing into the most popular literary genre of England at the time. Working closely with questions of form, genre, and performance, this course will take us through the exciting journey of discovering what theater meant for novels of the nineteenth century. In the texts we will read for this course, we will see characters attend the theater, rehearse plays, participate in melodramatic plots, and perform scripted social codes and rituals. We will observe how novelists creatively weave actors, scripts, and dramas into their complicated fictional plots, allowing theater to play multiple roles as text, vocation, and metaphor. We will ask questions that challenge the traditional separation of the page from the stage. To what extent do novels “perform” and how are they “staged”? How do characters learn to “act” in a world that limits them to certain modes of social behavior based on gender, race, and class? Why is it that an event as social as theater gets wrapped into a genre that seems intensely committed to psychological interiority and the solitary activity of reading?

Primary works may include novels by Austen, the Brontës, Dickens, Thackeray, and Eliot. Requirements for the course will include active participation in class discussions, quizzes, two papers, and a final exam.