The Victorian Unconscious

Spring 2016-2017


Zach Samalin

This course will consider the ways in which Victorian literature and culture can at once explain and be explained by psychoanalytic theory. Taking works by Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James as our principle points of departure, our course will pursue the “Victorian unconscious” through three lines of questioning: First, we will ask how Victorian literature anticipated the development of psychoanalytic concepts, such as the unconscious, repression, infantile sexuality and the symptom. At the same time, we will question whether Freud’s reflections on the psychopathologies of modern culture can in fact help to explain specific structural and social transformations in the 19th century public sphere, like the construction of modern sewer systems, the legal regulation of sexual acts, or the development of obscenity law. Finally, we will interrogate how the unconscious operates as a site of theoretical interest within Marxist and postcolonial critiques of modern imperialism. Our readings of 19th century novels will be complemented by extensive readings in psychoanalytic theory (Freud, Klein, Lacan, Winnicott) and pre-pscyhoanalytic psychiatry (e.g. Esquirol, Tuke, Krafft-Ebing, Charcot, Cotard), as well as relevant works by theorists elaborating and questioning psychoanalytic insights, including George Batailles, Michel Foucault, Jacques Rancière, Frederic Jameson, Edward Said, Kaja Silverman, Lauren Berlant, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. (18th/19th)