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The Nineteenth-Century British Novel

Course Description

Scholars generally hail the nineteenth century as the Age of the Novel. From serious triple-decker masterpieces to popular sensation fiction, the novel dominated the Victorian literary landscape. The nineteenth-century novel is certainly entertaining, but it is also a rich cultural archive that reveals much about Victorian society and its chief preoccupations. We will investigate this intersection of fiction and culture this semester.

This course will be a selective tour of some of the best fiction from the latter half of the nineteenth century. Given the impressive length of many of these texts, course writing requirements will be relatively light to allow students more time for reading. Prospective students are strongly cautioned to consider the lengths of these novels and the relatively brisk pacing of the class. Students can expect, on average, to read approximately 250-350 pages per week, every week, for fourteen weeks; students should plan to read approximately 30-50 pages per day to keep up with the reading. Short quizzes and in-class activities will be offered to encourage students to keep pace with this rigorous schedule. In addition to these less “formal” assignments, course requirements include active participation in class discussion. For the remainder of the grade, each student will be asked to choose–in consultation with the instructor–an individualized combination of formal papers and exams.

The reading schedule printed below is tentative and subject to change prior to the start of spring classes. Although specific text selections may change, this preliminary schedule is indicative of the typical reading load for the course.

Reading Schedule
5 January
Introduction and Course Overview
12 January Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847)
Kate Bush sings Wuthering Heights:
--Video on YouTube
--Lyrics and Info at Songfacts
19 January Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday--No class meeting
26 January

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853)
Parts I-VI (Chapters 1-19), Pages 13-315
--Selected Online Dickens Resources

2 February Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Parts VII-XIII (Chapters 20-42), Pages 315-669
9 February Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Parts XIV-XX (Chapters 43-60), Pages 669-989
16 February

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
Books One through Three, Pages 51-291

23 February George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
Books Four through Seven, Pages 292-518
2 March Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)
"First Period" (pages 1-190)
--"The Moonstone and British India"
--Wilkie on the Web

--Contempory Biographical Sketches of Collins
9 March Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
"Second Period" (pages 191-466)
14 March Exam/Paper 1 Due
Midterm exams or papers are due by 6:00. Although you may leave your exams/papers in my box in the English Department, I take no responsibility for papers that are lost or misdirected. Electronic submissions will not be accepted. Any requests for extensions to this deadline must be made with me in advance.
16 March Spring Break
23 March Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native (1878)
Books One through Three, Pages 9-230
30 March

Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native (1878)
Books Four through Six, Pages 233-390

6 April

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

13 April Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
Chapters I through XVI, Pages 7-232
20 April

Bram Stoker, Dracula
Books XVII through XXVII, Pages 233-402

27 April Final Paper Due
Final papers are due by 6:30 pm. All exams must be submitted electronically. An upload link has been created on Blackboard for this purpose. Any requests for extensions to this deadline must be made with me in advance.
Discussion Questions Assignment

Over the course of the semester, each student will be asked to submit to the class two sets of discussion questions. Each set of questions will address the reading for that day and should be designed to help spur our discussion by highlighting important issues in the text or by introducing the student's own ideas about the reading. There should be 3-5 well-constructed, interesting, provocative, eloquent, discussion-oriented questions in each set, and students are reminded that this is an assignment for which they will receive a grade. In other words, if you want an "A" for this assignment, you'll have to think and craft and refine your questions very carefully. Because these are questions meant to elicit discussions, students will be asked to post their questions to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 10 pm, Sunday night. Discussion questions not submitted on time will not receive full credit.

After you have drafted your questions, select your best question and prepare a short but brilliantly inspired answer to it. Your answer should be no more than three double-spaced pages, and it should reflect your very highest level of thinking and writing. It should be tightly focused and well-organized. It should also engage closely with the text. Given the brevity of the assignment, you should pay very close attention to sentence structure, grammar, and prose style. The response should, in other words, be interesting, significant, precise, and highly refined. Post your response to the Discussion Board prior to class, and be sure to have the final draft of it ready to hand in on the designated dates. Late submissions will not be accepted.

This assignment will count towards 15% of your course grade.

All students will be expected to prepare for class by reading and thinking about the questions posed by their classmates in advance of each class meeting. A successful classroom discussion is everyone's responsibility.

Paper and Exam Options

Reading quizzes, discussion questions, and class participation together account for 40% of the final semester grade; the Midterm Exam and Final Paper make up the remaining 60%. ALL students will be required to complete the Midterm Exam. This will be a take-home, essaystyle exam, covering the first three novels we’ll be reading: Wuthering Heights, Bleak House, and The Mill on the Floss. The Exam will be worth 30% of your semester grade.

In addition to the Midterm Exam, ALL students will write ONE medium-length (6-8 pages) paper covering one of more of the four novels we’ll read in the second half of the semester: The Moonstone, The Return of the Native, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Dracula. You may write on any topic of your choosing, but students are strongly encouraged to consult with me before settling on a final topic. Notes from class discussion, discussion questions (submitted by yourself or others), and short response papers are excellent places to begin your search for a paper topic. Issues introduced in lecture or during class discussion may form the basis of a paper, but a good paper will do more than simply rehash ideas exhaustively covered in class. In other words, you may find inspiration in what we talk about during class time, but your paper should add new, original elements that are distinctly your own. Your paper may address one or more than one of the last four texts we read in class. The paper will be worth 30% of your semester grade.

Your paper must appropriately cite and make use of at least one reasonably recent article from a scholarly journal or chapter from a scholarly book. By “recent” I mean an article or book published within the last 20 years. Encyclopedias, Wikipedia, and Spark Notes do not constitute scholarly research sources. Neither do The Explicator or Notes and Queries. The article or chapter that you choose should be at least 10 pages in length. I will provide you with a bibliography of sources that will help you locate an appropriate article or chapter for your paper. The final paper will be due by 6:30 pm, Monday 27 April. This date represents the absolute final deadline for the paper: no extensions to this deadline will be granted for any reason. Plan ahead, and make allowance for unexpected tragedy (power failure, illness, computer crashes, thermonuclear war, etc).

As I will be out of town at the end of the semester, all papers must be submitted electronically, either via upload to the SafeAssignment link on Blackboard or (if that link is for some reason not working) via email attachment (


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