19th Century English Literature: Inventing Reality in Victorian Science and Literature

ENGLSH 4250/7250
Section 01
Joshua Brorby
Course Description

The Victorians claimed to have invented many things, from middle-class morality to the Renaissance itself. In this age of evolution and “deep time,” scientists, philosophers, critics, and writers also invented theories in their fields that they felt might explain the entire world. In this course, we will focus on the overlap between these grand theories and the Victorian novels and poems that also endeavored to exhaustively depict the complexly interconnected world, as we also examine the ways that some writers resisted these totalizing “theories of everything.” Throughout the semester, we will ask not only how scientific and philosophical thought converged and changed in the nineteenth century, but what metaphysical, existential, and aesthetic questions coincided with the production of art. With special attention to Bleak House, Middlemarch, and In Memoriam, this course invites students to consider how our ways of seeing, describing, and documenting reality are rooted in Victorian ideologies. Authors will likely include George Eliot, Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Jorge Luis Borges, Darwin, Marx, Charles Lyell, György Lukács, Bruno Latour, and others.