Courses

Boldface letters in parentheses after the course descriptions refer to the program requirements that a course fulfills: (A) gateway, (B) fiction, (C) poetry, (D) drama, (E) pre-1650, (F) 1650–1830, (G) 1830–1940, and (H) literary or critical theory. This applies to undergraduate courses only.

Oscar Wilde and His Contexts

Spring 2012-2013

21919 / 41919

Benjamin Morgan

In this course we read the work of Oscar Wilde in its historical, intellectual, and cultural contexts. Perhaps more than any other author of the period, Wilde speaks to the issues that mattered to late Victorians: gender relations, women’s rights, class, fears of decadence and degeneration, socialism versus individualism, the rise of celebrity culture, sexual identity, and the social value of the arts. Our intensive reading of one author’s work will therefore also be an introduction to the transition from Victorian to modernist culture and aesthetics. In addition to contextualizing Wilde, we will study how and why he has been decontextualized and recontextualized: if Wilde’s writing is so attuned to a national and historical context, then why has he remained internationally popular for well over a century? The self-image that Wilde constructed has outlived him with remarkable longevity: “Wilde” is a persona as well as a person, an idea as well as an author. We will examine how Wilde’s image has been appropriated in various historical moments and national contexts through adaptation, translation, and homage. Readings will include Wilde’s poetry, plays, novel, journalism, and lectures as well as related works by Walter Pater, Gilbert and Sullivan, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, and Richard Strauss.

The Literature of Empire, 1750-1900

Spring 2012-2013

53530

James Chandler; Jennifer Pitts

This course considers the place of literature, broadly construed, in the imperial imagination of the British and French empires. Our range of interests will be broad enough to include, for example: historical narratives of imperial expansion and national consolidation; representations of race and slavery; the relationship of literary representations to political debates over conquest, slavery, imperial trading companies, and global commerce; and attempts in poetry and prose to represent personal experiences, or the “inner life,” of empires. We will be reading works by British, Irish, French, and Indian writers such as Laurence Sterne, Samuel Foote, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Denis Diderot, Maria Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, Sir Walter Scott, George Sand, T.B. Macaulay, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagore, and Joseph Conrad. We will also be looking at recent scholarly debates from various disciplinary angles in literary studies, political theory, history, and postcolonial studies.

Environments of Literature

Winter 2014-2015

26403

Benjamin Morgan

What do we refer to when when we talk about the environment? It is often said that there is no longer such thing as a natural environment: humans have so extensively shaped the planet that anything we might point to as untouched nature in fact bears the trace of human agency. In a world after nature, then, what new environments begin to emerge? Is “environment” itself an outdated, human-centered concept? In this course we examine how narrative fiction of the nineteenth century--a moment of tremendous technological and industrial expansion--constructed and portrayed various kinds of environments, human and nonhuman, natural and made. We will consider whether the nineteenth-century novel itself can be thought of as an immersive literary environment, one that models a complex ecology of relationships among human beings, cities, things, and nature. Our primary texts will include works by Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Thomas Hardy, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, H.G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad. We will also explore some of the ways in which literary scholars are now engaging with ecological issues, and explore conversations that are taking place at the intersection of environmental studies and the humanities..(B, G, H)

Victorian Speculative Fiction: Ecology and Utopia

Autumn 2014-2015

53511

Benjamin Morgan

This seminar examines the ecological and political imagination of speculative fiction between about 1860 and 1900, with particular attention to scientific romance from Verne to Wells. What is often described as a turn away from literary realism can in fact be thought of as an engagement with challenging new realities revealed by the natural and physical sciences. How could one imagine a world where humans might degenerate or go extinct, where the sun and earth would someday freeze, where time was to be measured in millions of years, where there might be fourth or fifth dimensions of space? This remarkable world, according to scientists, was in fact our own world. As gothic fictions, scientific romances, and alternative histories engaged with this new image of nature, they often denaturalized the progress of technology, the organization of labor, and notions of gender. Why were early science fictions so apt to become political fictions as well? In what sense is an image of nature always a political image? As we explore these questions, we will bring Victorian speculative fiction into conversation with philosophical considerations of science and culture, the concept of nature, and the utopian impulse. While the primary focus of the seminar will be British, we will follow the transnational trajectory of the scientific romance from France and to the U.S. (Verne, Bellamy, Gilman). The final weeks of the seminar will be guided by participants' interests and projects. Literary works will include novels and stories by Samuel Butler, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, H.G. Wells, Edwin Abbott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vernon Lee, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Morris, and Edward Bellamy. We will also read work by Dewey, Whitehead, Heidegger, Bloch, Adorno, Serres, and Latour. (18th/19th)

Transformations of Style. Genre, Institution: 1740-1840

Winter 2011-2012

James Chandler

This seminar would explore topics and facilitate research projects in the very long Romantic period reaching back to the age of Sensibility and forward to the emergences of Victorian forms like the three decker novel and the dramatic monologue. Ripe for inclusion in such an overview would be the culture changing novels of Richardson and Sterne, the poetry of sentiment (Grat, Collins, Charlottes, Smith), antiquarian ballad collections, the feminization of the novel (Burney, Smith, Inchbald), the Gothic (Radcliffe, Shelley), various genre-transformations in Romanticism (the conversation poem, the personal eipc, the lyrical ballad), the national tale (Edgeworth and Morgan), the historical novel (Scott and Galt), the major reviews (Edinburgh, Blackwoods, Quarterly), the weeklies (Examiner, London Magazine), and the serialized fiction that leads to the early work of Dickens and Thackeray. The point would not only be to look at processes of transformation of literary styles, genres, and institutions, but to correlate changes on all three levels with attention to larger developments in publishing, readership, demographics, political movements, technology, and overarching structures of thought.

The Politics of Aestheticism

Winter 2011-2012

21915

Benjamin Morgan

Because the founding gesture of British aestheticism was to deny the social and political utility of art, the movement provoked critics to unmask its implicit social and political investments from its inception. In this course we return to this longstanding question, turning a critical eye on the meaning of “politics” and the boundaries of “aestheticism.” Among the topics we will consider are the relation between aestheticism and atheistic materialism; the textual encoding of homoeroticism and Greek pederasty; exoticism and japonisme; feminism and misogyny; relations to ecology and environmentalism; and the Frankfurt school critique of aestheticization. Authors may include Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Arthur Symons, John Davidson, Ouida, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and Michael Field.

Science and the Literary Imagination, 1830-1900

Winter 2011-2012

21916 / 41916

Benjamin Morgan

This course focuses on how Victorian writers explore scientific concepts in fiction and poetry. We will interpret “science” broadly to include major developments such as theories of evolution and heredity in biology and the atomic theory in physics, as well as branches of research that are now either discredited or entirely transformed: phrenology, physiognomy, degeneration, biogenetic recapitulation, atavism, mesmerism, moral management, sexology, and hysteria. Our aim will be to examine the role of literature in its relations with science: What possibilities for imagining the implications of scientific theories do literary works offer that may be unavailable in nonfiction prose? Beyond addressing science thematically, how does literature respond formally, for example reimagining structures such as “character” or genres such as the bildungsroman in light of biological and psychological explanations of how humans think, reason, and develop? As we explore these questions within a particular historical context, we will consider how recent critics have offered theoretical justifications for and modes of relating science and literature. Authors may include Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, R.L. Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Charles Kingsley, Alfred Tennyson, A.C. Swinburne, Samuel Butler, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Edward Abbot, and John Davidson.

Climate Change Fiction

Winter 2015-2016

26040

Benjamin Morgan

Does climate change have a literary history? In this course, we will explore this question by examining literary texts that confront the imaginative challenges presented by anthropogenic climate change. We will read fiction that envisions the geological origin and end of the planet; the detrimental effects of industrialization and resource depletion; humanity as a species or as a population; and worlds in which nature has ceased to exist. Departing from usual literary-historical periods, we will take as our historical boundaries the geological period known as the Anthropocene (ca. 1780 to the present), in which the human species has begun to reshape the climate and the planet. Authors may include Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, Camille Flammarion, H.G. Wells, Gabriel Tarde, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and David Mitchell. Alongside these fictions of climate change, we will engage with a rapidly expanding field of critical theory that addresses the Anthropocene, including work by Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, Ursula Heise, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rob Nixon, and Timothy Morton. (B, H)

Aestheticism and Decadence

Autumn 2015-2016

41920

Benjamin Morgan

This course surveys the aesthetic and decadent movements in art and literature in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. We will examine the work of writers and artists who argued that the creation or experience of beauty should be considered the highest human value, as well as some of the important philosophical arguments that support or challenge this notion. We will take aestheticism to be not only a historical formation specific to the turn of the nineteenth century, but also an affective disposition toward the world whose political potential and difficulties persist today. Authors, artists, and philosophers may include: Charles Baudelaire, J.-K. Huysmans, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, Sarojini Naidu, Richard Wagner, James Whistler, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Theodor W. Adorno. (18th/19th)

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