The course considers a range of mostly British literature from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, up to the 1890s – poetry, fiction and drama – as regards its treatment of growing up in the period. It explores the era in which the modern idea of childhood as a distinctive state emerged, as is evident in the poetry of William Blake and William Wordsworth. (It was Wordsworth who wrote that "The child is father of the man".)
The course focuses on the literary themes of attaining maturity and an adult sense of self – an important theme of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1817), the first novel we study. The gains and losses experienced in leaving childhood behind, central to Blake and Wordsworth’s poetry, are a major focus of some of the prose texts, including Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Henry James’s Washington Square.
Moreover, the development of sexual and gender identity – a prominent modern preoccupation - was also a compelling concern of nineteenth-century writers. As well as featuring in the texts already mentioned, it is significant too in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest.
In all of the texts, the opportunities and constraints afforded by the social context are important influences on the individual’s growth. Although the texts are very varied in genre and technique, all register the impact of the social context of the period, a context that is undergoing alteration itself. So we consider, for example, the renewed interest in the natural world in the face of industrial change and urbanisation, plus the different conventions governing female as distinct from male behaviour in the period. Wilde’s comedy, which parodies many Victorian assumptions and practices, is a fitting end to the course.
Coursework + exam
Not taught in 2022
There will be a course anthology containing the poetry of Blake, Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson.
Jane Austen, Persuasion (Oxford World’s Classics)
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (Oxford World’s Classics)
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Oxford World’s Classics)
Henry James, Washington Square (Oxford World’s Classics)
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (Oxford)
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Macmillan)
Coursework + exam
ENGLISH 219: 15 points
30 points at Stage I in English