Genre Systems and Nineteenth Century British Prose
Goals and Methods
19th Century British Prose has largely been understood within—or inserted into—existing systems of genre classification largely created in relation to earlier aesthetic and later academic criteria. This course will introduce students not only to a wide range of interesting and provocative fiction and non-fiction, but to genre theory, and to issues of literary production with implications and applications beyond the historical and national scope of this particular course.
We will explore the tensions, productive and otherwise, between understood and sustained literary culture, moving in late century toward a culling and aestheticizing of serial print culture, and emergent print cultures heavily implicated in responding to new classes of readers, new modes of literary production, including seriality, and new forms of revenue, with a particular emphasis on advertising and brand loyalty.
In his most recent book, John Rieder describes this emergence of what he calls “The Mass Cultural Genre System,” and although his focus is on science fiction, his account of genre history is immensely useful in tracking the fortunes of prose more generally in the nineteenth century.
Many of the texts for this course were very popular when published, and some are still familiar today, but all were embedded within larger modes of literary practice. In some cases I will be juxtaposing “classics” to contemporary publishing successes—De Quincey and Egan, Dickens and Reynolds and Mayhew, Bronte and Braddon, the Yellow Book versus Ally Sloper or Punch. In other cases, I will be exploring the blurring of such distinctions within a single text—Shelley, Stoker, Stevenson, Conan Doyle.
Primary and Secondary Texts
- Selections from Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, Mary Wolstonecraft, and William Godwin regarding the French Revolution and aftermath
- Pierce Egan, Life in London; Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
- W. M. Reynolds, The Mysteries of London; Henry Mayhew, Selections from London Labor and London Poor; Charles Dickens, Bleak House
- Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights; M. E. Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
- Bram Stoker, Dracula; Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes stories
- John Ruskin, Selections from Stones of Venice; Walter Pater, Studies in the Renaissance; The Yellow Book; Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
- Selections from Punch, Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, and other Comic and Satiric Periodicals
- John Rieder, Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural System (2017)
- Ian Haywood, The Revolution in Popular Literature: Print, Politics, and the People, 1790–1860 (2004)
- Andrew King, Alexis Easley, and John Morton, eds. The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth Century British Periodicals and Newspapers (2016).
- Winifred Hughes, The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s.
- Related articles and books on periodical production, serialization of fiction, labor and worker history in the wake of E. P. Thompson; material on the Aesthetic moments of the later half of the century.
Weekly postings on upcoming readings
Two short papers read as in-class presentations and then submitted to the instructor
An oral presentation on, and then the writing and revision of, a substantial research project (20 pp.)
Mandatory conferences with instructor on all assignments.
Class participation, weekly attendance.
Student Learning Outcomes
This course meets the pre-1900 course requirement for MA students. Its emphasis on genre and production supports arguments regarding the continuing relevance of earlier cultural formations and literary and rhetorical practices. Advanced research methods—many of them involving the consulation of digital archives—and independent research into nineteenth-century publication conventions and audience recognition and development will be important components of the course.
Craig Howes is a professor of English, the co-editor of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, and the Director of the Center for Biographical Research. He has published frequently on nineteenth century British and American fiction, non-fiction, and periodical literature. He contributed the essay on “Comic/Satiric Periodicals” for The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers (2016), and he currently completing a history of comic and satiric British periodicals from 1760 to 1914.