Studies: 19th C Literature


What does it mean to be nonhuman? How do nonhumans affect our lives, and how do we affect theirs? How does the nonhuman help us understand what it means to be human? Such questions will be at the center of this class on the “Posthuman,” a theoretical movement that interrogates what it means to be human, and examines human relationships with animals, the environment, technology, and things.

While these ideas may seem far removed from nineteenth-century England, they were actually of major concern, and can be seen throughout Romantic and Victorian literature. With the rise of the animal welfare movement and Charles Darwin’s claims about evolution, humans began to question the animal-human divide. 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 their potential impacts on animal and human bodies. And finally, the imperial project resulted in environmental crises and animal and human genocides, seriously questioning the morality and humanity of Britain’s empire. Animals and animalized humans, cyborgs and monsters, trash and pollution, nature and the environment: such topics will be our concern.

This class thus places recent Posthuman theory in conversation with novels, poetry, and non-fiction texts from the long nineteenth century. We will read novels by Mary Shelly, Richard Marsh, H.G. Wells, and Virginia Woolf; a selection of Romantic and Victorian poetry; non-fiction texts on animals, population, and the environment; and recent theory by Donna Haraway, Jacques Derrida, Mel Chen, Timothy Morton, and Jane Bennett. Throughout the semester we will ask how nineteenth-century British literature can illuminate the pressing Posthuman concerns of our own time. As such, students will be able to do their final research project on a topic outside of the nineteenth century.



Protocol (taking class notes and sharing them with the class)

Short writings

Leading class discussions

Longer research essay and presentation



Mary Shelly, Frankenstein

Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam

Richard Marsh, The Beetle

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

Virginia Woolf, Flush