8:90 Victorian Fiction, Final Paper/Exam:

You are asked to give a 5-7 minute presentation on your topic during class on either Friday, May 2nd, or Monday, May 5th, 2008. The final version is due in both e-mail and paper form Friday, May 16th, at 5 p.m.

You should write an essay of at least six pages contrasting some aspect of two novels or short stories we have studied, discussing features of style, theme, sensibility, or Victorian literary taste. If the works you discuss are from different decades of the century, you should consider whether their qualities reflect shifts in Victorian literary preoccupations as the century progressed. Your essay, in other words, should comment not only on the works themselves but how they express thematic concerns or stylistic qualities of their respective authors and/or periods.

Your essay should include comments on stylistic features of the works you discuss: structure, language, characterization, interlocking plots, narrative voice, authorial point of view, use of imagery, allegory and allusion, and relation to prior texts.

Works of fiction we have read have included Elizabeth Gaskell, “Lois the Witch,” Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, George Eliot, Middlemarch; Rudyard Kipling, Kim; Margaret Oliphant, “The Open Door” and “The Portrait,” George Gissing, The Odd Women, William Morris, News from Nowhere, Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and Sherlock Holmes, “A Study in Scarlet.”

Topics you might consider for contrast include:
the origins of intolerance/treatment of outsiders
childhood/mistreatment of children
the tension between realism and romance
the British empire in ideal and reality
Victorian views of women/the “Woman Question” in Victorian fiction
masculinity and “manliness” in Victorian fiction
portraiture as symbol
the meaning of death/death as a threshold
themes of death and violence
the uses of history
narrative arrangement; the role of the narrator
geography and landscape/regions of Britain
“Britishness” vs. foreignness
motivation for work; the nature of creative work
parent/child relationships
marriage in Victorian literature/themes of adultery and “free love”
crime and criminality; social marginality
religious imagery/revisionist uses of faith/issues of belief and doubt
the social meaning of religion
introspection, the divided or alienated self
views on education
views on science (e.g. Eliot, Oliphant)
the oppressions of convention/social opinion
myth and legend
the conditions for romantic love
issues of fate/social determination
social hierarchy/issues of class and marginalization
redemption/human fellowship/alternative societies or ideals
the nature of beauty; the nature of mortality
illustrations for the novels (e.g. the original illustrations to Our Mutual Friend)
pleasure and relaxation
modes of achieving narrative closure/beginnings and endings