English 255.301
Victorian Tempers

Fall 2000 TR 9-10:30

Erin O'Connor

The Victorians are remembered as much for their moods as for their novels. Earnestness, prudishness, perversity, complacency, boundless optimism and bottomless despair are all indelibly linked, in our minds, to that peculiarly conflicted abstraction, the Victorian temper; just as the works of Dickens, Eliot, Carroll, Collins, Flaubert and Wilde all embody wildly divergent visions of that fantastically malleable animal, the Victorian novel. This course will take as its animating premise that the Victorian novel did much to shape--or temper--the Victorian temper; that, indeed, Victorian moods may be said to be inseparable from Victorian novels, which alternately helped to bring a range of modern affects into being (among them boredom, nervousness, love and depression), and worked to initiate the analysis of affect that eventually became the modern science of psychology. In its thematic treatment of affect, the Victorian novel mapped and modelled the contours of the modern temperament. And as a form designed to be read over long periods of time, often in isolation, always with patience, concentration, sympathy and interest, the novel required a type of responsiveness that was at once rapt (capable of identifying fully with the feelings of fictional characters) and removed (aware of itself as a reality apart from the world of the novel). Over the course of the semester, we will study the moods embraced and enjoined by particular novels alongside nineteenth-century writing about mood in popular journalism, conduct books, political economy, and psychology.

Required Texts (available at Penn Book Center):

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest


A bulkpack, available at Campus Copy Center


Required Work:

One short paper (5-7 pages)

One longer paper (10-12 pages)

A final exam

Regular attendance,weekly listserve posts, and lively class participation are also mandatory.

Schedule of Readings:


January 18: Introduction

January 20: Sense and Sensibility, chapters 1-17


January 25: Sense and Sensibility, chapters 18-34

January 27: Mullan, "Hypochondria and Hysteria: Sensibility and the Physicians"


February 1: Sense and Sensibility, chapters 35-50; Spacks, "The Interesting"

February 3: Pickwick Papers, chapters 1-9


February 8: Pickwick Papers, chapters 10-22

February 10: Pickwick Papers, chapters 23-30; Reviews; Freedgood, "Groundless Optimism"


February 16: Pickwick Papers, chapters 31-42

February 18: Pickwick Papers, chapters 43-49; Brantlinger, "How Oliver Twist Learned to Read, and What He Read"


February 23: Pickwick Papers, chapters 50-57

February 25: Madame Bovary, chapters 1-9 [Part One]


February 29: Madame Bovary, chapters 1-15 [Part Two]; Flaubert, letters on Madame Bovary

March 2: Spacks, "The Normalization of Boredom"; Small, "Love-Mad Women and Gentlemanly Medicine"


March 7: Madame Bovary, chapters 1-11 [Part Three]



March 14: Spring Break

March 16: Spring Break


March 21: Brantlinger, "Novel Sensations of the 1860s";The Woman in White

March 23: The Woman in White


March 28: The Woman in White; Castle, "Phantasmagoria"

March 30: The Woman in White


April 4: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

April 6: Bain on curiosity; Selections from Sarah Stickney Ellis, "Daughters of England"


April 11: Middlemarch, Book One

April 13: Middlemarch ,contd.


April 18: Eliot, "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists"

April 20: The Importance of Being Earnest


April 25: Importance of Being Earnest, contd.

April 27: Synthesis