Lit 400: Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem in Victorian Popular Fiction

Spring 1999 
Main 416 TTh 9:30-10:45
Dr. Robert Fletcher's homepage (office hours, etc.)
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Course Description:

This course will sample several varieties of Victorian romance (sensationalism, adventure, detective fiction, terror, ‘scientific romance') and read these books against the complex cultural background of later nineteenth-century Britain.  With the rise of cultural studies, these books are being reconsidered as complex cultural phenomena; however, in their own time, most were best-sellers and several have had a lasting impact on popular culture, despite having been considered sub-literary by academia. Thus, we will study the relations between these novels and some or all of the following: constructions of "high" and "low" culture, gender and sexual politics, constructions of class, imperialism, psychology, narrative theory and technique, theatricality.  And hopefully we'll also have some fun with them.  We'll spend the first few weeks learning and discussing the interests, methods, and tools of cultural criticism, and then each student will apply what s/he has learned to a single fictional text.

Course Objectives:

  1. Introduce you to a range of Victorian popular fiction.
  2. Illuminate the relationship between the novel and cultural politics during the age.
  3. Develop your understanding of narrative as cognitive form.
  4. Contribute to your growth as critical reader and writer by introducing you to the philosophy and methods of cultural studies.

Required Texts:

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret (1862), Oxford World Classics, 1987.
Wilkie Collins, Armadale (1866), Penguin Classics, 1995.
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (1890), Oxford World Classics, 1994.
H. Rider Haggard, She (1887), Oxford World Classics, 1991.
Marie Belloc Lowndes, The Lodger (1913), Oxford Popular Fiction, 199?
Ouida (Marie Louise Ramé), Under Two Flags (1867), Oxford Popular Fiction, 1995.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories (1885), Oxford World Classics, 1987.
H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), Oxford World Classics, 1996.

There will also be several critical/theoretical essays to read, which will either be xeroxed and placed on reserve or posted on the Internet.

Course Requirements:

Course Schedule

Week 1
Jan. 19:  Introduction to the course.  READINGS:  Ross Murfin's introduction to "Cultural Criticism."

Jan. 21:  "Literary" vs. "Popular" Fiction  READINGS:  Humm, Stigant, and Widdowson, "Introduction" to Popular Fictions: Essays in Literature and History.  Excerpts from Pierre Bourdieu's Distinctions.

Week 2
Jan. 26:  A 19th-century debate about the novel vs. the romance and literature as "art": James, "The Art of Fiction," and Stevenson, "A Humble Remonstrance."

Optional: Stevenson's "A Gossip on Romance".

Timothy Wager's Essay on James and Besant, "Regulating the Market" (from UC Santa Barbara)

Jan. 28:  Narrative, Ideology, Literary History. READINGS:  Moretti,  an excerpt from "The Soul and the Harpy," from Signs Taken for Wonders

Week 3
Feb. 2:  Fredric Jameson, a selection from "On Interpretation," from The Political Unconscious.

Feb. 4:  A Sample Text. Detective Fiction: Conan Doyle, The Sign of  the Four.

A Sample Outline (Lesson Plan) for a reading of The Sign of the Four

Week 4

Feb.9: "Cultural criticism" of the detective genre. Excerpts from Jann's "Sherlock Holmes Codes the Social Body"; Moretti, "Clues"; and Priestman, Detective Fiction and Literature.

Another Sample Outline (Lesson Plan) for The Sign of the Four, Day Two

(Feb. 11):  Off for reading, research, and preparation of lesson plan.

Tips, Strategies and Questions for Class Discussion or Papers

Week 5 (Feb. 16 and 18):  Off for reading, research, and preparation of lesson plan.

Week 6
(Feb. 23):  Off for reading, research, and preparation of lesson plan.

Feb. 25:  Sensation.  Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret (1862). Stefanie C.

Week 7
Mar. 2:  Lady Audley's Secret, continued. Stephanie H.

Mar. 4:  Lady Audley's Secret, concluded.

Week 8
Mar. 9 and Mar. 11. Spring Break

Week 9
Mar. 16:  Collins, Armadale (1866). Sarah

Mar. 18: Armadale, continued. Cheryl

Week 10
Mar. 23:  Collins, Armadale, concluded.

Mar. 25:   Adventure.  Ouida, Under Two Flags (1867). Kim

Week 11
Mar. 30: Under Two Flags, continued. Erin

Apr. 1:  Under Two Flags concluded.

Week 12
Apr. 6:  Haggard, She (1887). Jess

Apr. 8:  She concluded. Rachel

Week 13
Apr. 13:  Terror.  Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885). Tracy

Apr. 15:  Lowndes, The Lodger (1913). Cara

Week 14
Apr. 20:  The Lodger, concluded. Brian

Apr. 22:  ‘Scientific Romance.'  Wells, The Time Machine (1895). Josh

Week 15
Apr. 27:  The Time Machine concluded.  The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896).

Apr. 29: The Island of Dr. Moreau concluded. Louise

Final Exam:  Thursday, May 6, 1999, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

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