19th-Century British Literature

“Romantics, Victorians, and the World”

Delivery Format: F2F (in-person)

MW: 12:30-1:45

The world was wide in the 19th century, and this was deeply reflected in British literature. The Romantics  (1787-1837) and Victorians (1837-1901) engaged deeply with the world, although most often in hierarchical and violent ways, through relationships of domination such as slavery, empire and settler-colonialism. This was not always a one-sided relationship, however, as non-Western perspectives often wrote back to the British, thus making their way into what can be understood as a diverse body of literature. This class reflects such attempts to read and understand British literature in a global context, considering both British and non-Western perspectives, thus decolonizing what we understand as “British literature” more generally.

As it is impossible to capture the breadth of world relations in the 19th century, this class will touch on British relationships with the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia, and Hawai‘i, and the perspectives from people already in these places. Throughout the course we will prioritize non-Western perspectives as we seek to gain a more “undisciplined” global understanding of 19th-century “British” literature. Through this, we will consider themes such as race and racialization, imperialism and colonialism, gender and sexuality, class and labor, the human-animal divide, and nationality. In order to give you a sense of the breadth of literary genres and forms in the period, we will read a wide range of texts: novels, slave narratives, memoirs, poetry, short stories, and travel narratives. You will not only gain an understanding of “British” literature, but also of recent attempts to “undiscipline” such literature, opening it up beyond a hegemonic white, Western, perspective.

Major assignments will further aid students in decolonizing British literature and unsettling more academic forms of writing. Our two main assignments include a non-traditional scholarly article analysis, in which you will present the ideas in a scholarly article to a popular audience, and a digital archive research project, where you will use a recent digital archive to find and analyze a 19th century source by a non-Western writer and put it in conversation with the themes of the course (click here for an example). You will also participate in the construction of our online “Commonplace Book,” a compendium of key passages and annotations from our texts, and complete a shorter final paper, which will have multiple traditional and non-traditional options.

Required Texts (subject to change)

Anonymous, The Woman of Color (1808)

Jane Austen, Persuasion (1818)

Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince (1831)

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847)

Mary Seacole, The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole (1857)

Richard Marsh, The Beetle (1897)

Other possible authors available on Laulima: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Felicia Hemans, William Blake, William Cowper, Phillis Wheatley, Olaudah Equiano, LEL, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sarah Stickney Ellis, Rokeya Hossain, Olive Schreiner, Mary Ann Shadd, Alexander Liholiho, Queen Lili’uokalani, Isabella Lucy Bird, Behramji Malabari, and Ann Pratt, among others. We will also look at a wide range of art from the 19th century and today.

Assignments (tentative):

Reading Quizzes 15%

Online Commonplace Book Contributions: 15%

Non-traditional Scholarly Article Analysis: 20%

Digital Archive Research Project: 25%

Final Essay: 25%