Syllabus | Assignments

We will devote this course to the subtle and powerful poetry of Victorian women whose innovative works have come to occupy a more central place in literary studies. We will give particular attention to their formal poetics, their responses to contemporary aesthetic and ‘decadent’ ideals, and their debates about art, war, commerce, empire, class-divisions,  ‘women’s role,’ other social conventions and the nature of their literary craft.

We will spend several weeks on works of Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Augusta Webster, Rosamund Marriott Watson and the pseudonymous couple who wrote under the name “Michael Field,” then turn to a selection of lesser-known but equally significant writers of songs, ballads, folk poems and other forms of working-class "popular poetry."

I will ask each student to prepare an introductory class-presentation on one of the course’s lesser-known poets, from a list which may include (but not be restricted to) Laetitia Landon, Emily Bronte, Eliza Cook, Augusta Webster, Mathilde Blind, Amy Levy, Jean Ingelow, Annie Matheson, Olive Custance, Alice Meynell, Caroline Norton, Emily Pfeiffer, Mary Coleridge, Mary Robinson, Janet Hamilton and Ellen Johnston.




August 22nd, 2011 Monday course information; metrics, Browning’s “The Runaway Slave”
August 24th, 2011 Wednesday Elizabeth Barrett Browning, life; “The Runaway Slave”; Aurora Leigh, book I

August 29th, 2011 Monday Aurora Leigh, books II and III
August 31st, 2011 Wednesday Aurora Leigh, books IV and V 
First icon posting Friday September 2nd


September 5th, 2011 Monday Labor Day
September 7th, 2011 Wednesday Aurora Leigh, books VI and VII

September 12th, 2011 Monday Aurora Leigh, books VIII and IX
September 14th, 2011 Wednesday final discussion Aurora Leigh
Second icon posting Friday September 16th

September 19th, 2011 Monday test Aurora Leigh; slides of Victorian women artists
September 21st, 2011 Wednesday Augusta Webster, life; “The Castaway”

September 26th, 2011 Monday Augusta Webster, “Circe,” “By the Looking Glass”
September 28th, 2011 Wednesday songs of the unschooled/regional and working-class poems: Celtic ballads

September 28th—you should choose a poet for your class presentation.
The week before the presentation, you will make an appointment to see me to go over the poems chosen and discuss the questions you will ask the class. Also you will need to post the poems for discussion on Icon for all to read, and if possible, to bring in physical copies the preceding class period and on the day of discussion.

Suggested poets include: Eliza Cook, Emily Pfeiffer, Adelaide Anne Proctor, Toru Dutt, Alice Meynell, Mary Coleridge, May Kendall, George Eliot, Emily Bronte, Mathilde Blind, Louisa Bevington, A. Mary Robinson, Edith Nesbit and Constance Naden. We’ll discuss the poets in roughly chronological order.

Additional selections may be found in Nineteenth-Century Women Poets, ed. Armstrong and Bristow and Victorian Women Poets, ed. Virginia Blain.


October 3rd, 2011 Monday regional and working-class poems: Janet Hamilton and Ellen Johnston; also please let me know which poet you have chosen to present
October 5th 2011 Wednesday Christina Rossetti, life; “Goblin Market”
October 7th, 2011 Friday Third icon posting due

October 10th, 2011 Monday Christina Rossetti, selections in Leighton and Reynolds
October 12th, 2011 Wednesday first student presentation of poet
October 14th, 2011 Friday title and bibliography of first paper due; should include articles, books and other reference materials

October 17th, 2011 Monday second poet presentation
October 19th, 2011 Wednesday third poet presentation
October 21st, 2011 Friday Thesis statement and short 2 pp. draft of first paper due

October 24th, 2011 Monday fourth poet presentation
October 26th, 2011 Wednesday fifth poet presentation
October 28th, 2011 Friday Fourth icon posting due

October 31st, 2011 Monday sixth student poet presentation  


November 2nd, 2011 Wednesday seventh student poet presentation

November 7th, 2011 Monday eighth student poet presentation
November 9th, 2011 Wednesday ninth student poet presentation
November 11th 2011 Friday Fifth icon posting due

November 14, 2011 Monday tenth student poet presentation
November 16th, 2011 Wednesday test on poets since Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Thanksgiving break

November 28th, 2011 Monday Rosamund Marriott Watson, life, poems in Leighton, including “The Ballad of the Bird Bride” and “A Ballad of the Were-Wolf”

November 30th, 2011 Wednesday Rosamund Marriott Watson

December 2nd, Friday suggested time for sixth icon posting


December 5th, 2011 Aftermath: Charlotte Mew, life and poems, including “The Trees Are Down”;
final take-home exam/2nd essay: thesis statement, outline and 2 pp. draft due

December 7th, 2011 Aftermath: Charlotte Mew
final take-home exam/2nd essay: thesis statement, outline and 2 pp. draft due

December 12th, 2011 Exam week session: take-home exam/2nd essay to be summarized in final meeting; please bring a printout of all your icon postings to final exam session.

December 16th, 2011 Friday Final icon posting due (though best to have tended to this earlier); final draft paper due. Paper copies of your assignments are appreciated!



MW 5:00-6:15 p. m., Room 12 EPB
Instructor: Florence Boos
Office: 319 EPB, office phone 335-0434 (answering machine)

Office hours: most evenings after class;
Tuesday 5:30-6:30 p. m., Wednesday 4-5 p. m
and afternoons by appointment

Course Information and Assignments
Textbooks at UI Bookstore:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, Norton Critical Edition
Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds, Victorian Women Poets, Blackwell (can be purchased on Amazon, 15 copies available for under $30)
I will also hand out three or four critical essays for use during the course.

Course Requirements:

1. contributions to class discussion: please read the assignment before class and come prepared to ask questions and comment on unusual features of the text. You should work out the metrical and stanza pattern of each poem.

Also I will ask students to provide brief biographies of the poets we read together. For these, please consult a biography or the Dictionary of Literary Biography—not simply Wikipedia.

2. journal/reading responses: please prepare 6 reading responses, the equivalent of two double-spaced typed pages each, to be posted on Icon so that your fellow students may read them. Four of your responses should be on course readings, and two on literary criticism about Victorian women poets. For this latter, I will give you a short bibliography of suggested readings.

3. In addition to posting these responses to the class web site, you will be asked to write a six page critical/research paper, and a six page final take-home examination.

Your critical/research paper must be based on research in the biographies, book-length critical studies, and critical articles on the author you have chosen (that is, you cannot merely use web-page citations). It is due November 11th.

4. The final essay/take-home exam will be a comparative critical discussion of the works of two or more poets you have read during the course.

The final will be held during examination week, most likely on Monday, December 12th, 2011 unless students vote for another day that week.

5. You will be asked to provide for the class a brief biography of a poet of your choice, and to lead an approximately half-hour class discussion of one of her poems.

6. There may be a couple tests, and in addition a surprise quiz or two.