At the same time that Jane Austen was worrying about Elizabeth Bennett’s middle
class marriagability, William Blake was cooking up an almost entirely new religion.
While William Makepeace Thackeray sweated out whether nice guys really do finish
last in Victorian novel after novel, Byron’s egomaniacal Manfred could care less.
Mozart’s precision is out, Beethoven’s madness is in. Constable’s placid landscapes
give way to Turner’s tortured seascapes.
This gulf, tension, margin, whatever you want to call it, between safety and danger
will be our field of play in 433 as we look at the ways in which the Victorians and
Edwardians dodged and engaged the irrational in their literature, their art, and their
music. We will focus on the relations between terror and sublimity, the desire to be
frightened “out of one’s wits” in order to reach something beyond “wit,” loosely called
the sublime. We will be working toward a class definition of this spongy word all
The reading list is a work in progress at this point. I assume that you have read
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (if you haven’t, please do so over summer), so
we will read Edmund Burke on the sublime (and classical Greek & Roman theorists,
too), Wuthering Heights, maybe Melmoth the Wanderer or
Caleb Williams, certainly Byron’s Manfredand selections from
Wordsworth, some Blake, Poe, Pater, Whitman, maybe some Melville, and others.
We’ll look at lots of images in a special class Picasa Album (to which you will contribute),
and we will perhaps make our own musical playlist to accompany the texts. I expect that
much of the reading will be available on line, but there will be books, through Revolution
Books by the end of July. There may be a course reader.
You will write several short essays, turn in weekly responses on the assigned
reading, and do a major research project of your own devising. That will satisfy the
WI Focus requirement and you will also gain a DL and an English Major 1700-1900
Historical Breadth to boot.