Erin O'Connor
English 255
Novel Time Machines

Fall 2003
TR 9-10:30
202 Williams Hall Office Hours: I am available continuously by email and by scheduled appointment.

Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and George Eliot were the premier novelists of their day--they wrote bestsellers, and those bestsellers made them internationally famous. And yet their best known and most acclaimed work is preoccupied with a time that is far removed from that in which they wrote. This course turns on that paradox, taking as its starting point the observation that many of the most important and successful works of Victorian fiction are not set during the Victorian period, but instead take place during the years immediately preceding it. Dickens made his name in 1836 with the Pickwick Papers, an irrepressibly nostalgic story about the already long-lost Georgian England of 1829. Thackeray made his name in 1847 with Vanity Fair, a searingly acerbic indictment of English society during the era of Waterloo. George Eliot followed a similar trajectory: Adam Bede (1859) made her famous with its late eighteenth-century tale of infanticide; Middlemarch (1871-72), a "study of provincial life" between 1829 and 1832, established her as the century's finest English novelist.

Beginning with Sir Walter Scott's Waverley (1814), the first, and arguably the greatest, of English historical novels, this course will concentrate on a select handful of nineteenth-century culture's many "novel time machines." Scott wrote during the era that consistently preoccupies Victorian novelists; as the examples above show, their own historical fiction is frequently set during the moment when Scott was himself inventing the genre. We will attempt over the course of the term to unravel the complexities of this convergence, asking both why the Romantic era interests the great Victorian novelists and how the writing of these novelists develops Scott's Romantic aesthetic into a protocol for Victorian realism. We will attend closely to the means by which Victorian writers sought to write history through fiction, as well as to how they tried to capture the essence of their own moments by looking backward. The various moods of these literary backward looks will also occupy us: they range from the buoyant optimism of Pickwick to the biting satire of Vanity Fair to the measured, scholarly realism of Middlemarch.

We will round out our study of novel time machines with a look at Anthony Trollope's defiantly present-centered blockbuster, The Way We Live Now (1875), and we will conclude with a look at the slim, fin-de-siecle volume that formalized the nineteenth-century novel's longstanding treatment of narrative as a form of time travel: H. G. Wells' Time Machine (1898). Along the way, we'll sample the work of various Victorian nonfiction writers who were concerned with what it meant to record history, what it meant to create art, and what it meant to do both at once.

Required Texts (available at Penn Book Center)

Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Walter Scott, Waverley
William Thackeray, Vanity Fair
Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now
H. G. Wells, The Time Machine

Course Requirements

One short paper (5-7 pages) due October 9
One longer paper (10-12 pages) due December 15
Weekly postings to course weblog
Regular in-class quizzes

Be sure to read the course policies carefully.

Schedule of Readings

September 4: Introduction

September 9: Scott, Waverley
September 11: Waverley

September 16: Waverley
September 18: Waverley

September 23: Dickens, Pickwick Papers
September 25: Pickwick Papers

September 30: Pickwick Papers
October 2: Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero Worship; esp. "The Hero as Man of Letters"

October 7: Telegraphy, photography, trains, steam
October 9: PAPER DUE

October 14: FALL BREAK
October 16 Thackeray, Vanity Fair

October 21: Vanity Fair
October 23: Vanity Fair

October 28: Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, Chapter Five; excerpts from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
October 30: Eliot, Middlemarch

November 4: Middlemarch
November 6: Middlemarch

November 11: Middlemarch
November 13: Trollope, The Way We Live Now

November 18: The Way We Live Now
November 20: The Victorian science of time

November 25: The Way We Live Now

December 2: Wells, The Time Machine
December 4: synthesis