Victorian Fiction--Spring 2014
Professor Florence S. Boos

Syllabus   •   Assignments   •   ICON

Throughout the semester we will read compelling and influential works of nineteenth-century fiction, and consider ways in which these embodied features of Victorian life and sensibility. In particular, we will discuss how Victorian fiction  reflected patterns of marriage and family structure, class differences, forms of work and religious practice, views of art, urbanization, colonial empire, and efforts at social reform.

In the process, we will also consider questions of style, form, narrative sequence, authorial voice, modes of publication and intended audience(s), and changing tastes in critical reception.

I will ask students to read our texts with care and submit reading responses before each class session, participate actively in class discussions, provide background biographical information, contribute to a group project exploring some aspect of one of our texts, and submit two six-eight page essays. Some of our novels are quite long; students are advised not to enroll unless they are able to devote considerable time to these readings.

Course texts will include:

  • Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton
  • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  • Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native
  • Charlotte Bronte, Villette
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch
  • Olive Schreiner, Story of An African Farm
  • Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray

For English majors, AREA: Modern British Literature and Culture; PERIOD: 18th- and/or 19th-Century Literature


Tuesday 21 January 2014
introduction to course, remarks on how to read Victorian fiction; circumstances of publication

Thursday 23 January 2014
Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, first third

Tuesday 28 January 2014
Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, middle third

Thursday 30 January 2014
Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, final third

Tuesday 4 February 2014
Charlotte Bronte, Villette, pp. 1-100

Thursday 6 February 2014
Charlotte Bronte, Villette, pp. 100-300

Tuesday 11 February 2014
Charlotte Bronte, Villette, pp. 300-500

Thursday 13 February 2014
Charlotte Bronte, Villette, pp. 500-end

Tuesday 18 February 2014
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, first quarter (about 16 chapters)

Thursday 20 February 2014
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, second quarter (chapters 17-32)
Title and bibliography for research paper due.

Tuesday 25 February 2014
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, third quarter (chapters 33-48)
Abstract and outline for research paper due.

Tuesday 27 February 2014
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, fourth quarter (chapters 49-64)
Abstract and outline for research paper due.

Tuesday 4 March 2014
review and class discussion: Mary Barton, Villette, David Copperfield

Thursday 6 March 2014
test, Mary Barton, Villette, David Copperfield

Tuesday 11 March 2014
George Eliot, Middlemarch, book 1 and 2

Thursday 13 March 2014
George Eliot, Middlemarch, books 2 and 3

Tuesday 18 March 2014 and Thursday 20 March 2014
spring break

Tuesday 25 March 2014
George Eliot, Middlemarch, book 4 and 5

Thursday 27 March 2014
George Eliot, Middlemarch, book 6 and 7

Tuesday 1 April 2014
George Eliot, Middlemarch book 8, review

Thursday 3 April 2014
test, Eliot

Tuesday 8 April 2014
Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

Thursday 10 2014
Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

Tuesday 15 April 2014
Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

Thursday 17 April 2014
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Tuesday 22 April 2014
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Thursday 24 April 2014
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Tuesday 29 April 2014
Richard Jeffries, After London

Thursday 1 May 2014
Richard Jeffries, After London

Tuesday 6 May 2014
Richard Jeffries, After London

Thursday 8 May 2014
test Hardy, Wilde, Jeffries; student presentations

final 6 page comparison/contrast papers due Friday 16 May 2014


T Th 5:00-6:15, Room 206 EPB

Instructor: Florence Boos florence-boos@uiowa.edu

Office: 319 EPB, office phone 335-0434 (answering machine)

Office hours: T Th 2-3:30, most evenings after class until 7 p. m.; Fridays 4:30-5:30 p. m. and Wednesday afternoons by appointment

Materials and Textbooks:

Handouts for stories by George Egerton, "Gone Under" and Margaret Oliphant

Texts in UI Bookstore:

Elizabet Gaskell, Mary Barton

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Charlotte Bronte, Villette

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Richard Jeffries, After London

Course Requirements:

1. Reading responses: Before each class period, please send to me by e-mail/ICON a reading response. This should answer the questions:

Was there any section of the reading which wasn't clear to you or which seemed difficult?

Comment on a character/passage/element of the reading which you think especially interesting or notable. (2 or 3 sentences is sufficient.)

Why may the writer have created this poem/set of passages/argument/segment of the novel? In other words, if this is not a complete work, what purpose is served by including the part we have read? If a complete work, how are we expected to respond? (1 or more sentences will be sufficient.)

2. attendance and class discussion: please read the assignment carefully and come prepared to ask questions and comment on unusual features of the text.

3. short biographies: From time to time, I will ask students to prepare background information on an author's life.

4. shared project: with two others, please prepare a joint presentation on some aspect of a text or topic studied for the course. These might take the form of a dramatic reading; a powerpoint presentation; a skit or poem, a website; a series of songs placed in context; a dance demonstration; an informative lecture, or any other mode of presentation you prefer. At the time of the presentation or by the following class period, each member of the group should also submit a 2 page essay placing the project in context and explaining his or her contribution to the result. Please let me know sometime in February what you have decided to do.

For example, a presentation on Mary Barton might consider the songs interspersed in the text and other similar oral working-class songs of the period, working-conditions for seamstresses, the Chartist movement, or other industrial novels of the 1840s; one on The Tale of Two Cities might consider interpretations of the French Revolution, including Thomas Carlyle's history and other, later interpretations, biographical reasons for Charles Dickens's identification with the topic; one on Villette might consider Bronte's letters from the period of her residence in Belgium, critical responses to the novel, her relationship with publishers, or British attitudes toward Catholicism and/or France and Belgium. For Middlemarch, a project might consider medical practices in the early Victorian period, model villages and other forms of Victorian philanthropy, the figure of "Sister Dora" as the basis for Dorothea, the class system of the time as represented in the novel, linguistic registers and use of dialect, contemporary critical responses to Eliot's novel, or a selection of 20th and 21st century critical readings.

5. essays: You will be asked to write a six-page research paper utilizing several library sources, as well as a final six-page comparative essay/final exam. I will hand out some guidelines and suggested topics for the research paper, which is due Friday 7 March 2014. If you give me a draft of your paper a week before it's due, I will give you suggestions for revision.

6. Final essay: You will be asked to present a precis of the substance of your final essay in class 13 May 2014 or at another agreed-upon time during exam week. By this date you should have prepared a first draft; the final draft will be due Friday 16 May 2014.

Rough Guide to Grading Criteria:

10 points Reading Responses

10 points Attendance and discussion

10 points Group presentation

20 points tests

24 points first essay

26 points second essay


8:158 Victorian Fiction

Please submit an essay placing one of the texts we have read within a broader context. Your essay should be based in part on research, using at least 5 sources (biographies, history, critical essays). A title and bibliography are due Thursday 6 March 2014, an outline Tuesday 10 March 2014, and the essay Friday 14 March 2014. 

The Role of the Community in Mary Barton
The Significance of Popular Songs and Dialect in Mary Barton
Law, Police and Detection in Mary Barton
Mary Barton as a Tale of Manchester Life (could be based in part on Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class)
Social Classes in Mary Barton (or in Mary Barton and The Mill on the Floss)
Authorial Presence in Mary Barton
The Development of Female Identity in Mary Barton (the female bildungroman)
The Significance of Esther in Mary Barton
Family Violence and Addiction in Mary Barton
Mary and Her Friends: The Role of Sally, Alice, Job and Margaret in the Heroine’s
 Development in Mary Barton
Ethics and Religion in Mary Barton

The Narrator in Villette
Secrets, Disguises, and Mysteries as Structuring Devices in Villette
Dreams, Symbols and Nightmares in Villette
The Use of Doubles in Villette
Art and Dramatic Performance in Villette

The Relationship of Subplots in David Copperfield
Autobiographical Themes in David Copperfield
The Contemporary Reception of David Copperfield
The Role of Illustrations in DC
Serialization and the Structure of DC/ The Design of Chapters and Books in DC
DC as a Satire of Contemporary Victorian Society
Humor/the Grotesque/The Use of Contrast in DC; Disability in DC; Caricature (e. g. Uriah Heep)
Family Relationships in DC; Courtship and Marriage in DC
DC/Middlemarch as a Bildungsroman

The Narrator in Middlemarch (could be subdivided)
Beginnings and Endings in Middlemarch (structure of books, chapters, plots)
Interconnected Plots/Relationships in Middlemarch
Money and Morality in Middlemarch
St. Teresa and the Man of Science: Parallel Plots in Middlemarch
Provincial Politics in Middlemarch
The Death of Featherstone and its Aftermath
Art and the World of Culture in Middlemarch
The Double Marriage Plot: Causabon and Ladislaw
Moral Development in Middlemarch
The Search for Vocation in Middlemarch
Marriage as an Ideal in George Eliot’s Middlemarch

8:158 Victorian Fiction

For the following fourteen quotations, please answer as many as possible of the following  questions (10 pts. each):

In what novel  does  this appear, who is the speaker , and if relevant, to whom is s/he speaking? Who are the persons, if any, who are referred to in the passage?
Where does this passage occur in the novel?
Under what circumstances is it spoken/written?
What seems distinctive or worth explanation about its language, style, or imagery?
How does it reflect important themes or perceptions in the novel?

1.Rarely did that hour of the evening come, rarely did I wake at night, rarely did I look up at the moon, or stars, or watch the falling rain, or hear the wind, but I thought of his solitary figure toiling on, poor pilgrim, and recalled the words: “I’m a going to seek her, fur and wide. If any hurt should come to me, remember that the last words I left for her was, ‘My unchanged love is with my darling child, and I forgive her!’”

2.Straightway Monsieur opened his paletot, arranged the guard splendidly across his chest, displaying as much and suppressing as little as he could: for he had no notion of concealing what he admired and thought decorative. As to the box, he pronounced it a superb bonbonnière—he was fond of bon0bons, by the way—and as he always liked to share with others what pleased himself, he would give his “dragées” as freely as he lent his books.

3. Many of the improvements now in practice in the system of employment in Manchester, owe their origin to short, earnest sentences spoken by ­­­­______. Many and many yet to be carried into execution, take their birth from that stern, thoughtful mind, which submitted to be taught by suffering.

4. “I must have drink. Such as live like me could not bear life if they did not drink. It’s the only thing to keep us from suicide. If we did not drink, we could not stand the memory of what we have been, and the thought of what we are, for a day. . . .”

5. But one face, shining on me like a Heavenly light by which I see all other objects, is above them and beyond them all. And that remains. . . . . O _____, O my soul, so may thy face be by me when I close my life indeed; so may I, when realities are melting from me, like the shadows which I now dismiss, still find thee near me, pointing upward!

6.“Something comes and goes here: there is a shape frequenting this house by night, different to nay forms that show themselves by day. . . Well, I mean to make it out: it has baffled me so far, but I mean to follow up the mystery, I mean---” . . .

A sudden bell rang in the ouse—the prayer-bell. Instantly into our alley there came, out of the berceau, an apparition, all black and white. With a sort of angry rush—close, close past our faces—swept swiftly the very ____ herself! Never had I seen her so clearly. She looked tall of stature, and fierce of gesture. As she went, the wind rose sobbing; the rain poured wild and cold; the whole night seemed to feel her.

7. “It makes me more than sad, it makes my heart burn within me, to see that folk can make a jest of striving men; of chaps who comes to ask for a bit o’ fire for th’ old granny, as shivers i’ th’ cold; for a bit o’ bedding, and some warm clothing to the poor wife who lies in labour on th’ damp flags; and for victuals for the children, whose little voices are getting too faint and weak to cry aloud we’ hunger. . . . They go and make jesting pictures on us!

8. He showed me that it was covered with manuscript, very closely and laboriously written; but so plainly, that as I looked along the lines, I thought I saw some allusion to King Charles the First’s head again, in one or two places. “There’s plenty of string,” said Mr. ____, “and when it flies high, it takes the facts a long way. That’s my manner of diffusing ’em. I don’t know where they may come down. It’s according to circumstances, and the wind, and so forth; but I take my chance of that.”

9. It was sufficiently comical to observe her she sat beside _____, while he took that meal. In his absence she was a still personage, but with him the most officious, fidgety little body possible. I often wished she would mind herself and be tranquil; but no—herself was forgotten in him: he could not be sufficiently well waited on, nor carefully enough looked after; he was more than the Grand Turk in her estimation. She would gradually assemble the various plates before him, and, when one would suppose all he could possibly desire was within his reach, she would find out something else: . . . “One little piece—only for him. . . . ”

10. Here pause: pause at once. There is enough said. Trouble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope. Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of great terror, the raptures of rescue from peril, the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return. Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life.

___ ___ prospered all the days of her life; so did ____ ___; ____  ____ fulfilled her ninetieth year before she died. Farewell.

11. I was up with the dull dawn, and, having dressed as quietly as I could, looked into his room. He was fast asleep; lying, easily, with his head upon his arm, as I had often seen him lie at school. The time came in its season, and that was very soon, when I almost wondered that nothing troubled his repose, as I looked at him, But he slept—let me think of him so again – as I had often seen him sleep at school; and thus, in this silent hour, I left him. –Never more, oh God forgive you, __________! To touch that passive hand in love and friendship. Never, never, more!

12. To avenge his child’s death, the old man lived on; with the single purpose in his heart of vengeance on the murderer. True, his vengeance was sanctioned by law, but was it the less revenge?

Are ye worshippers of Christ, or of Alecto?

Oh, Orestes! You would have made a very tolerable Christian of the nineteenth century!

13.“There can be no disparity in marriage, like unsuitability of mind and purpose.” Those words I remembered too. I had endeavored to adapt ____  to myself, and found it impracticable. It remained for me to adapt myself to ____; to share with ­­­___ what I could, and be happy; to bear on my own shoulders what I must, and be happy still. This was the discipline to which I tried to bring my heart, when I began to think. It made my second year much happier than my first; and what was better still, made ____’s life all sunshine.                                                                                             

14.They were painted in a rather remarkable style—flat, dead, pale and formal. The first represented a “Jeune Fille,” coming out of a church-door, a missal on her hand, her dress very prim, her eyes cast down, her mouth pursed up—the image of a most villainous little precocious she hypocrite. . . What women to live with! Insincere, ill-humoured, bloodless, brainless nonentities! As bad  in their  way as the indolent gipsy giantess, the Cleopatra, in hers.

Extra credit: (up to 5 points)

Indicate four major themes or plot elements in Villette? How are these related?

Victorian Fiction, Spring 2014, Second Quiz

Identify the following passages: where do they occur in the novel, who is the speaker, what is referred to, and why is the passage significant? If relevant, please also comment on features of style.

“I cannot help that, sir. I will not let the close of your life soil the beginning of mine. I will not touch your iron chest or your will.”

There was a stifled groan, and the horrible sound of some one choking with blood. Three times the outstretched arms shot up convulsively, waving grotesque stiff-fingered hands in the air. He stabbed him twice more, but the man did not move. Something began to trickle on the floor. He waited for a moment, still pressing the head down. Then he threw the knife on the table, and listened.

She opened her curtains, and looked out toward the bit of road that lay in view, with fields beyond, outside the entrance-gates. On the road there was a man with a bundle on his back and a woman carrying her baby; in the field she could see figures moving--perhaps the shepherd with his dog. Far off in the bending sky was the pearly light; and she felt the largeness of the world and the manifold wakings of men to labour and endurance. She was a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide her eyes in selfish complaining. . . . ____ wished to acknowledge that she had not the less an active life before her because she had buried a private joy.                                                           

“Well, as my views changed my course became very depressing. I found that I was trying to be like people who had hardly anything in common with myself. I was endeavoring to put off one sort of life for another sort of life, which was not better than the life I had known before. It was simply different. . . . But not so depressing as something I next perceived—that my business was the idlest, vainest, most effeminate business that ever a man could be put to. That decided me: I would give it up and try to follow some rational occupation among the people I knew best, and to whom I could be of most use.”

“I’n seen lots o’ things turn up sin’ I war a young un—the war an’ the peace, and the canells, an’ the ould King George, an’ the  Regen’, an’ it’s been all aloike to the poor mon. What’s the canells been t’ him? They ‘n brought him neyther me-at nor be-acon, nor wage to lay by, if he didn’t save it wi’ clemin’ his own inside. Times ha’ got wusser for him sin’ I war a young un. An’ so it’ll be wi the railroads.  They’ll on’y leave the poor mon furder behind. . . . this is the big folk’s world, this is.”

Almost at the same moment the two watchers observed the form of a small old-fashioned child entering at the open side of the shed. . . “I’ve something to tell ’ee, mother,” he cried in a shrill tone. “That woman asleep there walked along with me to-day, and she said I was to say that I had seed her, and she was a broken-hearted woman and cast off by her son, and then I came on home.”

 “He is one of the most distinguished-looking men I ever saw. He is remarkably like the portrait of Locke. He has the same deep eye-sockets.”
“Had Locke those two white moles with hairs on them?”

“No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part. But you must think of that lonely death in the tawdry dressing room simply as a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy, as a wonderful scene from Webster, or Ford, or Cyril Tourneur. The girl never really lived, and so she has never really died . . . . The moment she touched actual life, she marred it, and it marred her, and so she passed away. Mourn for Ophelia, if you like. Put ashes on your head because Cordelia was strangled. . . . But don’t waste your tears over _____ ____. She was less real than they are.”

“What care I about their objecting?” said _____ with a sturdiness he was apt to show when he had an opinion. . . .
“They all think us beneath them. And if the proposal came from you, I am sure ____ would say that we wanted _____ for _____.”
“Life is a poor tale, if it is to be settled by nonsense of that sort,” said ____ , with disgust.

It was a spot which returned upon the memory of those who loved it with an aspect of peculiar and kindly congruity. Smiling champaigns of flowers and fruit hardly do this, for they are permanently harmonious only with an existence of better reputation as to its issues than the present. Twilight combined with the scenery of _____ _____ to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity. . . . Fair prospects wed happily with fair times, but alas, if times be not fair! . . . Haggard _____ appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct, to a more recently learnt emotion, than that which responds to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.

Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning, and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, if possible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed bright, and more like blood newly spilt. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as ____ _____ had hinted, with his mocking laugh?

If he had been independent, the matter of a patient’s treatment and the distinct rule that he must do or see done that which he believed best for the life committed to him, would have been the point on which he would have been the sturdiest. . . . Whereas, again and again, in his time of freedom, he . . . had said. . . “My business is to take care of life, and to do the best I can think of for it. . . .” Alas! The scientific conscience had got into the debasing company of money obligation and selfish respects.