8:6500 Social Class and Victorian Literature

Professor Florence S. Boos

Syllabus   •   Assignments   •   ICON

English 6500: Social Class and Victorian Literature


Victorian society was highly class stratified (in 1840 about 5% of the population were defined as middle-class), a social formation which vastly influenced the period’s literature. This course will consider a wide variety of canonical and lesser-known Victorian texts within the context of recent criticism on Victorian class relations and working-class writing. In the process we will explore the period’s many debates about the proper relations between and within social classes, the appropriate forms for “high” and “low” literary expression, the prescribed roles for working- and middle-class women, and the reforms in educational and political access throughout the period.

We will also examine representations of class distinctions in Victorian periodicals and paintings. I will ask students registered in the course to submit bi-weekly web postings, lead one or more class discussions, and prepare a 20 page critical paper or two shorter ones.

Course texts will include as many as possible of the following:

Critical essays/chapters by Anne Janowitz, Mike Sanders, Kelly Mays, David Vincent, Emma Giffin and others

19th-century and Edwardian social theory by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Eleanor Marx, John Ruskin, William Morris, and John Hobson

Autobiographies by Mary Smith and Elizabeth Dobbs/Annie Wakeman

Poems by Thomas Cooper, Ernest Jones, Janet Hamilton, Ellen Johnston, Samuel Bamford, and Alexander Barrass

Fiction: Gaskell, Mary Barton; Thackeray, Vanity Fair; Gissing, The Nether World; Zangwill, Children of the Ghetto; Carnie, Sister Carrie; poss. Mitchell, Sunset Song; short fiction by Cooper, Mary Lahee, and Ernest Jones

Drama: Morris, Nupkins, or The Tables Turned; Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession


Students will be asked to lead one or more class discussions, post responses to readings on ICON, and prepare a final 15 page paper on a topic of their choice.