English 440: The Victorian Novel

Kathleen Hickok, Iowa State University

The Victorian period was an era of social turmoil and aesthetic consolidation; it produced many extraordinary achievements in the novel by gifted writers, including William Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy. In English 440 we will focus closely on six major novels, beginning with Thackeray's satirical masterpiece Vanity Fair, and moving on to Jane Eyre and David Copperfield for the perspectives of children and the symbolic depiction of maturation in Victorian society. We will then turn to the moral and ethical visions in Ruth and Middlemarch, and conclude with Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which concentrates on the emotions and psyches of individuals within society and the natural world. Topics common to the discussion of all six novels will be the significance of class and gender in Victorian society, the changing characteristics of the novel during the nineteenth century, and recent literary critical commentaries about the texts. Course requirements include preparation of questions for class discussion, several tests, occasional in-class exercises, and a 10-15 page term paper.

Some Characteristics of Victorianism (1832-1901)

An age of transition, from medieval to modern times



Social structure:

Profound anxieties:

Art and the artist: