University of Iowa The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of English Search

Victorian Fiction: Course Information and Assignments

M W 2-3:15 p. m., Room 207 EPB

Instructor: Florence Boos

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

Office hours: most afternoons after class until 5 p. m.


Sally Mitchell, Daily Life in Victorian Britain

IMU Bookstore:

Teaching materials and course website page:

Exam: Monday December 10th, 2012 at 2 p. m. (students will report on their final papers)

Course Requirements:

participation: contributions to class discussion. Please read the assignment before class and come prepared with at least two written questions or comments for class discussion. These may be handwritten but will be handed in at the end of the class.

participation: from time to time, students will be asked to provide background information on one of the authors we read or on a relevant topic, such as the Salem witch trials. To prepare, please use biographical sources such as the Dictionary of Literary Biography or a biography (not simply Wikipedia!).

participation: ICON. 6 times during the semster by the times indicated on the syllabus, please post an essay equivalent to two typed pages on our space on ICON.

Of the postings, at least one should concern the book arts, based on our trip to Special Collections; two should comment on or utilize postings by your fellow students; and three should use biographical or critical material from an article or book chapter which discusses the text on which you are commenting.

Essays: 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 essay/examination. These must be submitted to the Writing Fellow two weeks before they are handed in to me.

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). A title, bibliography and if possible, an outline, should be turned in a week before the first draft is due, as indicated in the syllabus.

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

The final will be held during examination week, most likely Monday December 10th.

Grading: With some variation for special factors and marked improvements, grades will be roughly based on the following scale:

2 papers 50%

4 quizzes: 25%

participation: 25%


Victorian Fiction: Some Ideas for Essays

Title and Bibliography of critical and other sources due Thursday October 4th; a first draft due Thursday October 11th; 6 + page essay due Tuesday October 16th

The Relationship of Subplots in David Copperfield
Autobiographical Themes in David Copperfield
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, Final Paper/Exam:

A draft of the final paper should be handed in at the final exam period on Tuesday December 11th. You are asked to present an abbreviated version (3-5 minutes) of your paper at this session, and to submit the final version by Friday December 14th at 5 p. m. If you would like to give me an early draft by Friday December 7th, I can have it for you with comments by the time of the exam.

For your final paper, you should write a six page essay contrasting some aspect of the works of two writers we have studied, contrasting their narrative styles, modes of presentation, sensibility, and ideas.  If the works you discuss are from different genres or decades of the century, you might consider whether their different 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 also include comments on narrative and stylistic features of the works you discuss: organization, plot sequence and use of contrasting plots, narrative voice, imagery, tone, irony and humor.
The novels you discuss should not be the same as those used for your first paper.

Works of fiction we have read have included Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, George Eliot, Middlemarch, Rudyard Kipling, Kim, Anne Bronte, Tenant of Wildfell Hall, George Moore, Esther Waters, Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and William Morris, News from Nowhere.

Topics you might consider for contrast include:
religion and its discontents/ tolerance vs. intolerance
issues of faith and doubt/ revisionist uses of faith/ new forms of belief
marriage/romance/”free love” vs. convention
social hierarchies/issues of class and marginalization
the representation of servants and members of the lower classes
sexuality and its discontents/ sex and violence, issues of choice
hybridity/blending of races and cultures/colonialism
economic virtues and vices; the uses of money; inheritance, wealth and distribution
motivation for work; business and success
the nature of creative work, artistry, craftwork, writing
child development, maturation
parent/child relationships
the tension between realism and romance
forms of realism/alternative worlds


Quiz 1: Victorian Fiction, David Copperfield and Daily Life in Victorian Britain

For the following seventeen quotations, please answer as many as possible of the following (5 pts. each):

  1. 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?
  2. Where does this passage occur in the novel?
  3. Under what circumstances is it spoken/written?
  4. What seems distinctive or worth explanation about its language, style, or imagery?
  5. How does it reflect important themes or perceptions in the novel?


  1. “The die is cast—all is over. Hiding the ravages of care with a sickly mask of mirth, I have not informed you, this evening, that there is no hope of the remittance! Under these circumstances, alike humiliating to endure, humiliating to contemplate, and humiliating to relate, I have discharged the pecuniary liability contracted at this establishment, by giving a note of hand, made payable fourteen days after date, at my residence. . . . When it becomes due, it will not be taken up. The result is destruction. The bolt is impending, and the tree must fall.”



  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!’”



  1. “. . . My natural grief for my child’s mother turned to disease; my natural love for my child turned to disease. I have infected everything I touched. I have brought misery on what I dearly love, I know—you know! I thought it possible that I could truly love one creature in the world, and not love the rest; I thought it possible that I could truly mourn for one creature gone out of the world, and not have some part in the grief of all who mourned. Thus the lessons of my life have been perverted! I have preyed on my own morbid coward heart, and it has preyed on me. . . . oh see the ruin I am, and hate me, shun me!”



  1. 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!




  1. 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.”



  1. . . . it is a matter of some surprise to me, even now, that I can have been so easily thrown away at such an age. A child of excellent abilities, and with strong powers of observation, quick, eager, delicate, and soon hurt bodily or mentally, it seems wonderful to me that nobody should have made any sign in my behalf. But none was made; and I became, at ten years old, a little laboring hind in the service of Murdstone and Grinby.



  1. I lay in my basket, and my mother lay in her bed; but Betsey Trotwood Copperfield was for ever in the land of dreams and shadows, the tremendous region whence I had so lately travelled; and the light upon the window of our room shone out upon the earthly bourne of all such travelers, and the mound above the ashes and the dust that once was he, without whom I had never been.



  1. Once more he laid his hand upon my shoulder; and then taking his flute and a few books from his desk, and leaving the key in it for his successor, he went out of the school, with his property under his arm. Mr. Creakle then made a speech . . . in which he thanked  __________ for asserting . . . the independence and respectability of Salem Houe. . . while we gave three cheers—I did not quite know what for, but I supposed for __________, and so joined in them ardently, though I felt miserable. Mr. Creakle then caned _____ _______ for being discovered in tears, instead of cheers, on account of Mr. ____’s departure; and went back to his sofa, or his bed, or wherever he had come from. . . . . For myself, I felt so much self-reproach and contrition for my part in what had happened, that nothing would have enabled me to keep back my tears but the fear that -_________, who often looked at me, I saw, might think it unfriendly –or I should rather say. . . undutiful—if I showed the emotion which distressed me. He was very angry with ________, and said he was glad he had caught it.         




  1. “I could not do what I have promised, for money,” she replied. “I could not take it, if I was starving. To give me money would be to take away your trust, to take away the object that you have given me, to take away the only certain thing that saves me from the river.”




  1. “. . . If anyone else had been in my place during the last few years, by this time he would have had Mr. _________ (oh, what a worthy man he is, ______ ___________, too!) under his thumb. Un – der—his thumb,” said _____, very slowly, as he stretched out his cruel looking hand above my table, and pressed his own thumb upon it, until it shook, and shook the room. If I had been obliged to look at him with his splay foot on Mr. _________’s head, I think I could scarcely have hated him more.




  1. 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!




  1. “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 her 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.



  1.    ____ ______ sprang up from her seat; recoiled; and in recoiling struck at her, with a face of such malignity, so darkened and disfigured by passion, that I had almost thrown myself between them. The blow, which had no aim, fell upon the air. . . .     “You love him?” You?” she cried, with her clenched hand, quivering as if it only wanted a weapon to stab the object of her wrath. . . . “And tell that to me,” she added, “with your shameful lips? Why don’t they whip these creatures? If I could order it to be done, I would have this girl whipped to death.”




  1. “______ ________ don’t look a likely subject for the tender passion,” said __ ____, composedly, “but the time was, Trot, when she believed in that man most entirely. When she loved him, Trot, right well. When there was no proof of attachment and affection that she would not have given him. He repaid her by breaking her fortune, and nearly breaking her heart. . . . I left him. . . generously, I may say at this distance of time, Trot, that I left him generously. . . . What he is now, you see, But he was a fine-looking man when I married him. . . and I believed him—I was a fool!—to be the soul of honor!”



  1. When he was waiting to be the object of your munificence, so freely bestowed for my sake, and when I was unhappy in the mercenary shape I was made to wear, I thought it would have become him better to have worked his own way on. I thought that if I had been he, I would have tried to do it, at the cost of almost any hardship. But I thought no worse of him, until the night of his departure for India. That night I knew he had a false and thankless heart. I saw a double meaning, then, in Mr. _________’s scrutiny of me. I perceived, for the first time, the dark suspicion that shadowed my life.”




  1. “’Tan’t that I forgive her. ’Tan’t that so much. ’Tis more as I beg of her to forgive me, for having pressed my affections upon her. Odd times, I think that if I hadn’t had her promise for to marry me, sir, she was that trustful of me, in a friendly way, that she’d have told me what was struggling in her mind, and would have counselled with me, and I might have saved her.”



  1. Mr. _______ shook his head discouragingly. “Heaven forbid, Copperfield,” he replied, “that I should do any man an injustice: still less, Mr. _______.  But I know my partner, Copperfield. Mr. _______ is not a man to respond to a proposition of this peculiar nature. Mr. _______ is very difficult to move from the beaten track. You know what he is!”




  1. How many pounds per year were necessary for a family to survive as members of the lower middle class? Of the “middle” class?



  1. Between 1840 and 1900, what happened to the size and places of residence of the population of Britain?


  1. Who could vote in 1831? In 1885?



Extra credit (1 pt. each): What were some major changes which occurred in Britain during the Victorian period?


Quiz Victorian Fiction October 2012: Middlemarch
Please answer 4 short essay questions and 7 identifications: 10 points each

  1. Describe the novel’s major subplots and at least four ways in which each is blended with the others.





  1. Discuss ways in which economic independence and morality are intertwined in the novel, giving at least five instances in which the financial choices of characters aid or limit their independence.  In cases where characters fail, what should they have done?






  1. Discuss what factors make a marriage happy or unhappy, using as examples at least five courtships or marriages dissected in the text. Which do you think the author/narrator considers most successful, and why?









  1. Using at least five examples, consider what are some ways in which characters in Middlemarch influence the lives of others through sympathetic interventions, or alternately, through an absence of sympathy?





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?
“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.”


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.



“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.”



 “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?”


“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.


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.



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.


Fall 2012 Quiz on Rudyard Kipling’s Kim:
Answer 4 of 5 questions (one of which must be no. 5) —In responding to each of the following, list at least four examples or forms of evidence:

  1. Please cite at least four episodes, descriptions or events which reflect the author’s belief in Britain’s right to rule India, and/or in the superiority of British culture.



  1.  List at least four episodes, descriptions or events which seem to reflect the narrator’s advocacy of cross-cultural tolerance and reciprocity. To what extent do these conflict/accord with your answers to question 1?




  1. Is Kim a bildungsroman? That is, does it present the maturation of its protagonist? What are some ways in which we see the hero develop (or fail to develop)?



  1. Kim was written for an audience of adolescent males at a time when British imperial sentiment was at its height. What elements of the story seem designed to appeal to this audience? What effect does Kim’s age have on the audience’s judgments of his actions and loyalties? (2 pts. each)




  1.  Citing four or more examples from the text, what view(s) of religion/spirituality/specific religious observances seem affirmed throughout this book?   



Explain 4 of 5 Identifications: For each, indicate the speaker, location in the book, situation or context, and significance in the text:
That was no cheerful night; the room being overfull of voices and music. ____ was awakened twice by someone calling his name. The second time he set out in search, and ended by bruising his nose against a box that certainly spoke with a human tongue, but in no sort of human accent. It seemed to end in a tin trumpet and to be joined by wires to a smaller box on the floor—so far, at least, as he could judge by touch. And the voice, very hard and whirring, came out of the trumpet. ___ rubbed his nose and grew furious, thinking, as usual, in Hindi.


“Now you see—you see why I wanted witnesses. They are highly unscrupulous people. Oh, sar! sar! You must not hit holy man!” . . . .
“Go back to the coolies,” whispered the ____ in his ear. “They have the baggage. The papers are in the kilta with the red top, but look through all. Take their papers, and specially the murasla [King’s letter]. Go! The other man comes!” . . . .
“If you shoot,” shouted ____, “they will descend and annihilate us. I have rescued the gentleman, sar. This is particularly dangerous.”


By this I knew the Soul had passed beyond the illusion of Time and Space and of Things. By this I knew that I was free. . . . Then my Soul was all alone, and I saw nothing, for I was all things, having reached the Great Soul. And I meditated a thousand thousand years, passionless, well aware of the Causes of all Things. Then a voice cried: “What shall come to the boy if thou art dead?” and I was shaken back and forth in myself with pity for thee. . . . Upon this my Soul. . . withdrew itself from the Great Soul with strivings and yearning and retchings and agonies not to be told.



 “Hah! What says _____ ___?” He made no attempt to look for the speaker, and that showed ___ that he knew.
“The pedigree of the white stallion is fully established.”
“What proof is there?” The Englishman switched at the rose-hedge in the side of the drive.
. . . ___ flipped the wad of folded paper into the air, and it fell in the path beside the man, who put his foot on it as a gardener came round the corner.


“This matter of creeds is like horseflesh. The wise man knows horses are good—that there is a profit to be made from all; and for myself—but that I am a good Sunni and hate the men of Tirah—I could believe the same of all the Faiths. . . . I say in my heart the Faiths are like the horses. Each has merit in its own country.”


Quiz on Esther Waters and Mitchell, “Working Life”
Please answer 3 of the 4 following questions (5 pts. each):

  1. Explain at least five ways in which the practice of gambling on horses influences the plot of Esther Waters or its characters.



  1. Esther Waters is considered a pioneering work in choosing as its subject matter the life of an illiterate servant who becomes an unwed mother. Please list at least five difficulties/obstacles which Esther faces as a result of her social position and extra-marital motherhood.



  1. A “naturalist” novel is usually interpreted as one in which the characters’ actions and fate are largely determined by social or economic forces beyond their control. Using as examples at least five important events or decisions in Esther’s life, indicate which of these are respectively presented as chiefly the result of social or economic circumstances, biological determinism (that is, heredity and instinct), or individual character and choice?




  1. In the context of the views on gender of the 1890s, indicate at least four ways in which Esther Waters may be said to be/not to be a feminist novel? Would it be considered a feminist novel by modern standards; why or why not?


Mitchell, “Working Life”: Please answer one of the following two questions (5 pts. each):

  1. Please indicate at least five aspects of mid-Victorian working conditions for child labor, as indicated in the Parliamentary reports of 1843 or other documents of the period.



  1. Please list at least five examples of Victorian working-class or middle-class occupations which we have encountered in our novels, and the rough expected salaries accorded to each.


Please identify 4 out of 5 of the following passages, indicating the speaker, location in the novel, and the passage’s significance.
1.As they walked home, ____ told ____ the story of her betrayal.  He was interested in the story, and was very sorry for her.
I love you, ____; it is easy to forgive those we love.”
“You’re very good; I never thought to find a man so good.” She looked up in his face; her hand was on the gate, and in this moment she felt that she almost loved him.


2. The old woman took her in her arms.
“It breaks my heart to think that one belonging to me should have done you such a wrong--- But if you want for anything let me know, and you shall have it. You will want money; I have some here for you.”


3.As he went up the area steps she remembered that he had used the same words before. She tried to think of ____, but ____’s great square shoulders had come between her and this meager little man. She sighed, and felt once again that her will was overborne by a force which she could not control or understand.


4.“It is hard to part from you,” he said. “If Chasuble had won we would have all gone to Egypt. I could have lived out there.”


5. I don’t say I’m not often sorry for them, poor little dears, but they takes less notice than you’d think for, and they is better out of the way; they really is, it saves a lot of trouble hereafter. I often do think that to neglect them, to let them go off quiet, that I be their best friend: not willful neglect, yer know, but what is a woman to do with ten or a dozen, and I often ’as as many? I am sure they’d thank me for it.


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