Seminar in Special Topics: Romantic/Victorian Posthumanism

Anna Feuerstein

ENG 790

F 3:30-6:00


Romantic/Victorian Posthumanisms


Posthumanism is a capacious term that encapsulates a variety of theoretical movements that challenge the negative effects of Enlightenment humanism, and move toward new understandings of the human and the nonhuman (animal, plant, technology, matter). While posthumanism’s foundational texts deal with our technological advancements as humans, the field has expanded to include other areas of inquiry beyond the technological: the nonhuman broadly understood, the environment, the anthropocene, and animal-human relations. Posthumanism seeks to understand the limits of the human and the productiveness of moving beyond human boundaries, while also exploring the destructive effects humanism has on our environment and relations with other species. Posthumanism thus expands our political categories, and asks us to forge alternate visions of sexuality, gender, race, species, ecology, and, of course, the human.


These ideas may seem far away from nineteenth-century England. Yet, as Jesse Oak Taylor argues, “If the Anthropocene was invented in the late eighteenth century, then the Victorians were its first inhabitants” (“Where is Victorian Ecocriticism” 878). Worries over population and the rise of industrialization spurred debates over pollution and human impacts on the environment. Advances in technology and medicine caused fears over technology’s potential impact on animal and human bodies. With the rise of the animal welfare movement in the late eighteenth century, its intensification in the Victorian period, and Darwin’s claims about evolution, humans began questioning the animal-human divide and definitions of the human more generally. The realist novel, with its strict attention to detail – especially of environment and objects – shows intimate human relationships with animals, objects, environment, and affect. And finally, the imperial project relied on the exploitation of land, species, and dehumanized others.


This class places recent posthuman theory in conversation with novels, poetry, and non-fiction texts from the long-nineteenth century, in order to examine how Victorians were posthuman and what they can teach us about today’s posthuman concerns. We will read 19th century British authors such as Mary Shelly, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson, Richard Marsh, H.G. Wells, and Michael Field, next to recent theorists such as Donna Haraway, Jacques Derrida, Mel Chen, Timothy Morton, and Jane Bennett. We will address issues of nature-human relations, environmentalism, animality and animal-human relations, species, the nonhuman, the cyborg, dehumanization, empire, race, sexuality, and queerness, among others.



– Understand a broad theoretical movement and its nuances

– Apply theory to a specific literary field of study

– Understand the nuances of a specific era of literature (Romanticism and Victorian Studies)

– Become more familiar and comfortable with academic writing and theory

– Develop written, oral, and research skills



Participation                                     20%

Reading Notes                                20%

Protocol                                             10%

Conference paper                           20%

Final essay                                       30%


Required Texts:

Mary Shelly, Frankenstein

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam

H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau

Richard Marsh, The Beetle

Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto

Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman


Additional primary (poetry and non-fiction) and secondary readings posted to Laulima