ENG 497 Seminar in English Literature |
Place, Space, and Community in the Lives, Worlds, and Writings of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy
Places (buildings) and spaces (landscape and urbanscapes) can create a sense of community, as well as social division and individual isolation. They evoke literature images, associations, and interpretations of life that provide entry points for understanding social, political, economic, cultural, and artistic concerns of a particular period. Two important spaces and their attendant buildings in Victorian England were the countryside and the large cities. The former was undergoing continued upheaval with changes in agricultural practices and the ongoing migration of people from the country to urban centers of commerce and industry. The latter—mostly notably London—was also undergoing upheaval as its spaces and places changed to accommodate the influx of people, continued growth as the commercial and mercantile center of the world, and emerging urban problems. Two Victorian authors are closely associated with these changing physical and social landscapes: Charles Dickens, whose life and writings were shaped by his London experiences, and Thomas Hardy, whose life and writings were influenced by his experiences of growing up and living in rural Dorset in southwest England. Each uses his relationship with space, place, and the times to establish setting and themes in his novels, especially the theme of community, as well as themes of individual and class isolation.
We will examine through relevant novels, essays, art, architecture, historical documents, 19th century periodicals, and literary criticism, the roles of rural and urban places and spaces in the novels of Charles Dickens (London in Oliver Twist and Bleak House) and Thomas Hardy (rural Wessex in Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’Urbervilles). Our principal critical angles for examining these texts will be literary/cultural/historical/biographical/architectonic criticism as we focus on major themes of community and isolation within Dickens’s and Hardy’s novels and within the nation’s changing social, political, economic, religious, and intellectual milieus. Supplemental texts will include chapters from William J. Plamer’s Dickens and New Historicism, Raymond William’s The Country and the City, Richard Altick’s Vicorian People and Ideas, Howard Newby’s Country Life: A Social History of Rural England, and Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography. Class activities will include discussion, student reports, extensive library research, short writing projects, and a major seminar paper. [PART OF THE CLASS WILL BE A SEVEN-DAY THANKSGIVING-BREAK IMMERSION TRIP TO LONDON AND DORSET led by Professor Herzog.]