Section Information for Spring 2017
ENGH 336, British Novel of the Nineteenth Century
Constructing Space in the Nineteenth Century
The enormous social and technological changes of the nineteenth century are reflected in its literature’s preoccupation with changing perceptions of space and the ways space could be constructed. The fact that a popular BBC series, set at the beginning of the twentieth century, is named for a great house rather than for the family who occupies it illustrates the way space could and did stand in for a host of disparate values and preoccupations. Downton Abbey’s perfection (registered in the disembodied hands straightening silverware and dusting crystal chandeliers in the opening credits) is meant to suggest a timelessness that is at the same time completely constructed. Such perfection is only possible because of innovations in technology, in the production and distribution of goods, in agriculture and landscape architecture that had been growing throughout the preceding century—and also because of the strict but entertainingly permeable boundaries between upstairs and downstairs, mortar and landscape, north and south, country and city. Boundaries, of course, are only interesting narratively when they are permeable, in nineteenth-century print texts as in twenty-first century soap operas. From the mouldering ruins of Gothic fiction to the mansion as a means of displaying the stability or instability of new wealth; from country towns to urban slums; from London as the center of the financial world to the reaches of the British empire, spaces in nineteenth-century literature reflect anxieties about social change and about shifting understandings of center and periphery. We will explore some of these anxieties in novels by William Godwin, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Bram Stoker. Required work will include response papers, in-class presentations, formal essays, and a take-home exam.