Lit 342: Victorian Literature

Spring 2006
TTh 12:30-1:45, Main 213
Dr. Robert Fletcher
Office:  Main 541, x2745
Hours:  TThF 11-12, Th 4:30-6:30 and by appointment

Blackboard Course Site

Course Description and Goals

This course will introduce you to the study of Victorian culture through its poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction prose (essays, travel accounts, journalistic reports, etc.).  We will bring to bear on the texts we study both the literary critic's eye for the nuances of language and the ethnographer's curiosity about the subtleties of meaning in a culture that differs from her own.

By the end of the course, with some diligence you should . . .

  1. understand some of the cultural conversations in Victorian Britain
  2. appreciate how "literary" and "non-literary" writing are related as rhetorical forms
  3. know a selection of the major poets' work
  4. understand the workings of canon formation in Victorian literary history
  5. have an acquaintance with the important genre of Victorian fiction
  6. gain practice in responding to literature through analytical and argumentative writing


NOTE: This course is a Writing Emphasis (W) course, which means there will be class time devoted to learning to write using the conventions of literary criticism and several writing assignments, both formal and informal (including some opportunities for feedback and revision).


Thomas J. Collins & Vivienne Rundle, edsThe Broadview Anthology of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory, Concise Edition.  Broadview, 2000. (BAVPPT)
Rosemary Mundhenk and LuAnn McCracken Fletcher, edsVictorian Prose: An AnthologyColumbia, 1999. (VP)
Dennis Denisoff, ed., Broadview Anthology of Victorian Short StoriesBroadview, 2004. (VSS)

Plus background readings (cultural contexts) drawn mostly from the Victorian Web.


  1. Paper #1:  a 5-7 pg. essay comparing how works of different genres address or treat one of the following topics: self and society, the woman question, science and religion (more specific directions will be distributed) (20%)

·        Note: You will have an opportunity to revise the first paper for a higher grade.

  1. Paper #2:  a 5-7 pg. essay discussing one or more of the poets or fiction writers in the context of Victorian ideas about culture and aesthetics (more specific directions will be distributed) (20%)
  2. Midterm examination: a take-home exam that will consist of passage explications/analyses (15%)
  3. Final examination:  a post-midterm exam that will consist of passage explications/analyses (15%)
  4. Class participation, which should demonstrate thorough and careful reading of the texts (10%)
  5. Participation in electronic study groups at our Blackboard course site (about 250 words per week, in two postings) (20%)
  • Extra credit opportunity:  On Saturday, March 18th, a group of students from my wife’s Victorian lit class at Cedar Crest College will be going to the Delaware Art Museum to see the Pre-Raphaelite art collection. I will take interested students, who may then write a 2-page reflection on their experience of the art, and get 5% extra credit.  You must sign up ahead of time to go (so I know how big a van I will need).


We at West Chester University wish to make accommodations for persons with disabilities.  Please make your needs known by contacting me and/or the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities at ext. 3217.  Sufficient notice is needed in order to make the accommodations possible.  The University desires to comply with the ADA of 1990.

In West Chester University’s Mission Statement says, in part, “We appreciate the diversity the members of our community bring to the campus and give fair and equitable treatment to all; acts of insensitivity or discrimination against individuals based on their race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, abilities, or religious beliefs will not be tolerated.”   Based on West Chester University’s commitment to diversity, I believe that everyone in my classroom should feel safe.  I have completed the University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Ally training.  In becoming an ally I made the commitment to offer a safe space for all of my students, not just those who identify as LGBT.  If you or someone you know would like to know more about this program, please feel free to see me during my office hours.

Attendance:  Since I would prefer to run the class by discussion rather than lecture, I will ask that you attend consistently.  You are permitted two absences during the semester, excluding those for major medical problems, which will be handled on an individual basis. If you miss too much of the semester--even with a legitimate medical excuse--I may have to ask you to withdraw. After the two cuts, your final grade in the course will be lowered a third of a grade (e.g. from C to C-) for each cut.

Late Assignments:  Papers or other assignments submitted late will be penalized with a 1/3 of a grade deduction for each day (not class period) that passes after the due date.  Assignments more than seven days late will not be accepted.

Plagiarism: "Plagiarism is using another's words or ideas without appropriate acknowledgement" (MLA Style Manual 4). In formal essays, "acknowledgement" means using conventions of citation such as the quotation marks and parenthetical note in the previous sentence. Even if you paraphrase someone's words, you must provide a note showing your debt. NOTE: If you plagiarize you will receive an irrevocable "F" grade on the assignment and possibly for the course (this is English Department Policy).


Reading Schedule

NOTES:  Have all selections read for the day on which they are scheduled (when we get to the poets whom we’ll spend two day on, I’ll advise on which poems to read for which day).  And please be sure to read the biographical introductions for every writer. For a few selections inclusive page numbers are provided, but otherwise only the first page of each selection is listed; please be sure to read the entire selection unless otherwise noted.

T 1/17
Introduction to the course.

Victorian Debates

Self and Society, At Home and Abroad

Th 1/19
Mundhenk and Fletcher, Introduction to Victorian Prose (xvii-xxi); Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave (VP 1); Richard Oastler, "Slavery in Yorkshire" (VP 9); Victorian Web links on the Anti-Slavery Campaign in Britain, Social Class, Victorian Occupations (skim) and the Race and Class Overview (read links here).

T 1/24
Thomas Carlyle, from Past and Present: "Midas," "Gospel of Mammonism," "Happy," "Democracy," and "Captains of Industry" (VP 29-31, 39-51); Henry Mayhew, Labour and the Poor (VP 189); Landon, "The Factory" (BAVPPT 16); Eliza Cook, "A Song for the Workers" (BAVPPT 331); Victorian Web pages on the Poor Law (overview and links), the Life of the Industrial Worker, Corn Laws and Chartism.

Th 1/26
Samuel Smiles, Self-Help (VP 199); Punch, "Punch's Own Report of the Opening of the Great Exhibition" (VP 283); The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace (at; "Victorian Achievements" Animation; The Rise of the Victorian Middle Class; William Morris, "How We Live and How We Might Live" (VP 393); Matthew Arnold, "The Buried Life" (BAVPPT 375); The Victorian Gentleman; Charles Dickens, "The Bloomsbury Christening" (VSS 61)

Th 2/2
Benjamin Disraeli, "Conservative and Liberal Principles" (VP 115); Harriet Martineau, Eastern Life, Present and Past (VP 93); Mary Beaumont, "The Revenge of Her Race" (VSS 277); David Cody's Introduction to the British Empire and Disraeli's Imperial Policies at the Victorian Web.

T 2/7
Anthony Trollope, "George Walker at Suez," (VSS 187); Richard Burton, "A Day Amongst the Fans" (VP 313); Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (VP 439); Rudyard Kipling, "Recessional," "The White Man's Burden" (BAVPPT 517, 518), "Lispeth" (VSS 347), and Edward Morel, "The Black Man's Burden"; Listen to NPR program on the European colonization of the Middle East.

The Woman Question

Th 2/9
Sarah Stickney Ellis, The Women of England (VP 53); William Rathbone Greg, "Why Are Women Redundant?" (VP 157); Florence Nightingale, "Cassandra" (VP 305); Cook, "Song of the Ugly Maiden" (BAVPPT 329); Victorian Theories of Sex and Sexuality at the Victorian Web, "Victorian Women's Rights" Game at BBC History.

T 2/14
Writing workshop for first paper: linking texts to historical contexts through research.  Read Caroline Norton, A Letter to the Queen (VP 143).  See also links at BB to websites on writing about literature.

Th 2/16
William Acton, "Prostitution" (VP 221); Augusta Webster, "Circe," "A Castaway" (BAVPPT 472 and 475); The Fallen Woman in Fiction and Legislation.

T 2/21
Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women (VP 377); Mary Arnold [Mrs. Humphry] Ward, "An Appeal Against Female Suffrage" (VP 417); Evelyn Sharp, "In Dull Brown" (VSS 397); Arthur Munby, "The Serving Maid," "Woman's Rights" (BAVPPT 404); Charlotte Mew, "The Farmer's Bride" (BAVPPT 525); excerpt from Patricia Marks's book on the New Woman.

Science and Religion

Th 2/23
Charles Darwin, from On the Origins of Species (VP 165); Alfred Lord Tennyson, selections from In Memoriam, A.H.H. [read the following sections in their entirety: Prologue, XXXIV-XXXV, LIII-LVI, CXVIII, CXXIII-CXXXI] (BAVPPT 149 ff.); Francis Power Cobbe, Life of F. P. Cobbe (VP 329); The Warfare of Conscience with Theology, from the Victorian Web.

T 2/28
Edmund Gosse, Father and Son (VP 409); Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach" (BAVPPT 374); Hardy, "Hap," “Neutral Tones,” "The Darkling Thrush," "In Tenebris" (BAVPPT 487 and ff.), Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” “The Windhover,” “Carrion Comfort,” “No worst, there is none” (BAVPPT 493 and ff.).

Th 3/2
Peer-review workshop for 1st paper.

Culture and Aesthetics

T 3/7
Matthew Arnold, from Culture and Anarchy: "Sweetness and Light" (VP 337-45); John Ruskin, "Traffic" (VP 247); J. S. Mill, "What is Poetry?" (BAVPPT 562).  Paper # 1 due today, at the beginning of class

Th 3/9
Charlotte Brontė, letters to G. H. Lewes (VP 229); George Henry Lewes, review of Shirley (VP 235); George Eliot, "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" (VP 287); Geraldine Jewsbury, "Agnes Lee" (VSS 163); Mary E. Braddon, "Evelyn's Visitant" (VSS 205)

T 3/21
Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance (VP 401); Robert Buchanan, "The Fleshly School of Poetry" (BAVPPT 645-648, ending with ". . . gratified by their applause."); Algernon C. Swinburne, "Under the Microscope" (BAVVPT 662), "Anactoria," "The Leper," (BAVPPT 453, 460)

Th 3/23

Christine Roth's overview of Decadents and Aesthetes of the 1890s; Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" (VP 423) and "The Happy Prince" (VSS 353); Ada Leverson, "The Quest of Sorrow" (VSS 411)

Major Poets (all in BAVPPT)

T 3/28
Writing workshop for second paper: connecting a writer's texts to their governing aesthetic.  Swinburne, "The Garden of Proserpine" (BAVPPT 462), "Dead Love" (VSS 215)

Th 3/30 and T 4/4
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: All selections in BAVPPT (22 and ff.) plus bio at the Victorian Web.

Th 4/6—No Class!

T 4/11 and Th 4/13
Alfred Lord Tennyson (BAVPPT 101 and ff.): "Mariana," “The Lady of Shalott," "Ulysses," "The Lotos-Eaters," "The Epic [Morte d'Arthur]," "Morte d'Arthur," Maud plus bio at the Victorian Web.

T 4/18 and Th 4/20
Robert Browning (BAVPPT 224 and ff.): "My Last Duchess," "Porphyria's Lover," "The Bishop Orders His Tomb . . . ," "Fra Lippo Lippi," "Andrea del Sarto," "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," "An Epistle . . . Karshish," "How It Strikes a Contemporary," plus bio at the Victorian Web.  Revision of 1st paper will probably be due on T 4/18.

T 4/25
D. G. Rossetti (BAVPPT 389 and ff.): "The Blessed Damozel," "Jenny," "A Sonnet is a moment's monument, " "Nuptial Sleep," "The Portrait," "Willowwood," "Soul's Beauty," "Body's Beauty" plus bio at the Victorian Web.

Th 4/27

Peer-review workshop for the 2nd paper.

T 5/2
Christina Rossetti (BAVPPT 412 and ff.): "Goblin Market," "In an Artist's Studio," "No, Thank You, John," "Song: When I am dead, my dearest," "An Apple Gathering," plus bio at the Victorian Web (there are a number of biographical entries on CR, reflecting increasing scholarly interest in her over the last 20 years).  Paper #2 due today, at the beginning of class.

Final examination will be take-home, due date TBA.