How can we best know the past, and how much can we really know of it?
This interdisciplinary course will seek answers to these questions in relation to mid-Victorian England. We will read primary material published around 1859, providing a “snapshot” of a particularly important moment in the middle of one of the world’s most interesting centuries. The readings will include two novels and diverse original texts drawn from political, economic, scientific, social, and popular writing. Expect authors as well-known as Karl Marx and as new to modern readers as Isabella Beeton, whose book on domestic management invented the genre Martha Stewart now commands. Darwin’s writings will provide an interesting context for examining George Eliot’s novel about human instinct, while G. H. Lewes’s Physiology of Common Life will offer a glimpse into medicoscientific thinking of the time. Other readings explore the Great Exhibition of 1851, popular economics, London street life, and political theory.
Makepeace Thackeray, William. Vanity Fair. Ed. John Carey. Penguin Classics, 2003. ISBN-10: 0141439831.
Eliot, George. Adam Bede. Ed. Margaret Reynolds. Penguin Classics, 2008. ISBN-10: 0140436642.