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Lady of Shallot by William Holman Hunt8:224
Aesthetic and Social Issues
in Victorian Literature

Professor Florence S. Boos

We will read and discuss a fairly wide range of poems, plays, novels, novellas, utopias, autobiographies, art-criticism and essays on social topics against a background of aesthetic and political debates, evolving views of human identity and new conceptions of “beauty” as well as “taste.” 

We will also view a number of Victorian paintings and designs; examine Kelmscott and other fine press books and illustrations; consider early anticipations of what critics came to call “modernism;” and explore some of the ways in which class, gender, sexuality and regional variations may have influenced these texts and guided their authors’ larger intentions.

Texts for the course will include in the following.

Poems by Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Michael Field, Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy.

Essays by John Stuart Mill (The Subjection of Women), Friedrich Engels (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State), John Ruskin (Unto This Last), Walter Pater (The Renaissance) and Frances Power Cobbe, “Wife-Torture in England.”

Autobiographies by Mary Seacole (Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands) and Mary Kingsley (Travels in West Africa).

Short stories by Elizabeth Gaskell  and Margaret Oliphant (“Lois the Witch,” “The Open Door”).

Plays by Oscar Wilde (An Ideal Husband) and George Bernard Shaw (Mrs. Warren’s Profession).

Novels and romances by Charlotte Bronte (Villette), Olive Schreiner (The Story of an African Farm) and William Morris (News from Nowhere).

Students will be asked to discuss these texts in class, post comments on them to our web site, organize one or more in-class presentations, and write one longer (15-page) essay or two shorter ones of comparable total length.  

Painting: "The Lady of Shallot" by William Holman Hunt