SLN: 18893
T, Th 1:30 to 2:45 PM

Tempe ED 330

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ENG 430: Unwholesome Victorian Fictions

Spring 2013 Syllabus


This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 2:45 PM .

\Tuesday classes will involve brief lectures and general discussion of the readings. Thursday discussions will focus on the literary readings. In addition to completing the weekly reading, submitting the writing assignments, attending class regularly, and participating in in-class discussion of the readings, you are required to participate in asynchronous Blackboard discussions every week.

This course seeks to develop your critical interpretive skills, to broaden your knowledge of nineteenth century British literature and culture, and to enhance your writing, reading, and research skills.

Dan Bivona
Office: LL 224

Office hours: Th 3-5, W 7-9 pm (online only), and by appointment

Directions for online meetings:
[Audio conference: Call my Skype number from any phone: 602-903-3825]
[Video conference: 1) Find my contact info in the Skype Directory, 2)
add me to your contacts list, 3) and make a video call (this requires you to have Skype
on your computer; video calls on Skype are free. See to download)]

Phone: 602-903-3825
My Website

See my faculty profile here:

Mudie’s Select Circulating Library had a powerful hold on the Victorian publishing industry from the 1830s through the 1860s. One result of this was the expectation, enforced through Mudie’s book-buying power, that the reading of fiction ought to be a morally “improving” experience. Readers learned to expect that the experience of reading novels by authors such as Dickens or Eliot would make them better people by placing them in positions to sympathize imaginatively with suffering and to experience what was involved in the complex moral decision-making that made it possible to lead a good life. In short, the novel in this period attained an unprecedented social role in helping to “improve” its readership. Eliot, in fact, explicitly assigns fiction an important public role in shaping moral readers at the end of her novel Middlemarch (1872) when she salutes her main character Dorothea Brooke in these words: “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

By the late nineteenth century, the power of Mudie’s had been largely broken and publishers were working to meet the desires of a much more complexly differentiated market. Many authors began challenging the notion that fiction has the power to make readers better people. The Aesthetic Movement generally and the essays of Walter Pater specifically bid readers to find in literature an opportunity to taste sensual experiences of a morally ambiguous variety. The later Decadent Movement set out to outrage bourgeois tastes and sensibilities by celebrating a wide range of perverse experience. Writers influenced by Darwinism and the authors of popular vampire tales contested the dominance of bourgeois morality and came to celebrate death itself as the guarantor of the value of sensual experience in life. Even writers as apparently “wholesome” as Thomas Hardy devoted themselves to dramatizing the inefficacy of sympathy as a morally regenerative experience.

In this course, we will survey some of this literature and explore how the earlier association between imaginative literature and “wholesomeness” or “moral health” comes to be contested in the latter part of the century. We will be reading novelists such as Dickens, Wood, Hardy, Wells, Stoker, LeFanu, Huysmans, and Wilde as well as poets such as Swinburne, the lesbian poets “Michael Field,” the writers of the famous “Yellow Books,” and critics and philosophers such as Matthew Arnold,Walter Pater, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The primary works will be supplemented with shorter readings from writers whose works are available either on the Web or through ASU Library databases. Requirements include 2 short critical essays, 1 take-home final exam, and 1 critical research paper in addition to regular contributions to Blackboard discussions.

Where it can be found
Due Date
% of Final Grade
2 critical papers, 3-5 pages in length.
Topics should be drawn from the reading and discussion material. Topics will be made available on the Blackboard in advance of the due date.
due in my inbox ( on Thursday at midnight. Due dates are marked on the reading list below.
1 critical research paper, 10-12 pages
Topics in the "Assignments" area of Blackboard
due in my inbox on May 4 before 11:59 PM
1 take-home final to be administered online
It will appear on our website 24 hours before the exam is due back to me by email attachment
due in my inbox ( on Friday, May 3 at 11:59 PM
weekly contributions to class discussion, on Blackboard and in class; quiz grades; attendance
"Discussion Board" area of Blackboard and in class
throughout; you will receive a letter grade for attendance, quiz performance, and in-class contributions at the end of the semester

N.B. You have the option to revise and resubmit one of the seminar papers for an additional grade. If you choose to do so, your first draft grade will count for 5% of your final grade and the revision grade will count for 5%. Revisions are due in my inbox on the final day of class, April 30.

The critical papers should be 3-5 pages in length. This word limit will be strictly policed. Topics for the papers can be found on Blackboard by following the "Assignments" link. These papers are to be submitted as attachments to an email to me ( before midnight on the due date. Grade will be reduced one grade for every day the paper is late. Use MLA Format for citations. The due dates of these papers can be found in the reading schedule below and in Blackboard (see the "Assignments" area)..

The Guidelines for paper grading can be found here:

A note on getting started: Effective note-taking on the novels is very important, because you will need to use your notes to find the evidence to support the claims you make in your papers. An effective thesis should assert something about the meaning of the work that is not obvious to everyone who has read it. Moreover, an effective thesis takes a stand on an issue of significant controversy over the meaning of the work discussed. The paper topics, which can be found on Blackboard in the "Assignments" area, will provide you with question prompts. These are based on significant critical issues that the works have engendered.

The final paper, a critical research paper, should be 10-12 pages in length. You should use at least three secondary sources. Again, topics will be found on the course Blackboard in the "Assignments" area. All students should discuss their topics with me no later than early March and submit a one-paragraph thesis statement and argument forecast on email by April 15.

Weekly contributions to online class discussion: Everyone is required to pose at least 6 questions to the group online over the course of the 16-week term. In addition, every student is required to respond at least once per week to other students' or my questions. You will be graded both on the frequency of your contributions and on the quality of them. The best strategy is to post at least 2 or 3 thoughtful responses and/or questions per week. Please be sure to make them thoughtful, paragraph-long responses, not quick, two-word responses, and be sure to observe the conventions of civil online discourse (no flaming or personal remarks about other students in the class). Questions may deal with the previous week's reading or with the upcoming week's reading. You may ask questions or make responses that relate current material to material introduced earlier in the course, but please do not pose questions about a novel that the rest of the class will not have read for two more weeks. Questions and responses should be posted no later than 12 PM on the Monday of each week to be counted for that week.

Issues raised in the the online discussions will be discussed in class as well.

Please note that all work done for this course must be your original work. If you make use of the insights of other writers, you must cite them in your papers using MLA citation format. Punishments for plagiarism can be very severe and may include a permanent grade of "failure with academic dishonesty" or suspension from the University. If you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me.

Author Title Edition
Dickens, Charles Little Dorrit** Oxford UP
Huysmans, J-K Against Nature* Oxford UP
Wilde, Oscar The Picture of Dorian Gray* Oxford UP
Wood, Ellen East Lynne** Oxford UP
Hardy, Thomas Jude the Obscure** Oxford UP
Arnold, Matthew Culture and Anarchy* Oxford UP
Wells, H. G. The Island of Dr. Moreau* Signet
Stoker, Bram Dracula** Oxford UP

These books are currently available at, Google Books, or, and the ASU bookstore. Please note that you are also responsible for reading and taking notes on the secondary works as well. These are available on the internet. Information for downloading is available on the reading list.

*These works should be read completely in time for discussion on Tuesday.

**The reading and discussion of these books will be divided over two weeks. You should read the first half of these books for the first week of discussion.

Week Topic Reading/Assignments
Jan. 8-10 Introduction to the course: Victorian publishing, Evangelical Moralism, and Health as a Duty  
Jan. 15-17

Redemptive Fiction: the Dickensian Novel

  • Little Dorrit (1855); read first half


Jan. 22-4


Redemptive Fiction: the Dickensian Novel
  • Little Dorrit (1855); read second half


Jan. 29-31


Unhealthy Sensation and Sensationalism
  • East Lynne (1861); read first half


Feb. 5-7*


Unhealthy Sensation and Sensationalism
  • East Lynne (1861); read second half
Feb. 12 Unhealthy Sensation and Sensationalism
  • East Lynne (1861)


Feb. 14


Incest in the Warrens of the Poor

Feb. 19-21


Anarchy and Ill Health in the Body Politic
  • Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (1869); read all
Feb. 26 Anarchy and Ill Health in the Body Politic
  • Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (1869)
Feb. 28


The Rejection of Nature as Man's Original Home


Mar. 5 The Rejection of Nature as Man's Original Home

Mar. 7

No Class: NCSA Conference
Mar. 12-14
No Class: Spring Break


Mar. 19**-21


Aestheticism and Unhealthy Desires
  • Walter Pater, "Imaginary Portraits: The Child in the House." Macmillans (1878):
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Hymn to Proserpine"
  • "Michael Field" (TBA)


Mar. 26-8


Aestheticism and the Problem of Urban Life
  • Max Nordau, Degeneration (1892): Book I Chapters I-IV and Chapter III of Book III (Google Books)
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)


Apr. 2-4


Vampirism and Unhealthy Desires
  • Sheridan LeFanu, "Carmilla" (1872) (TBA)
  • Dracula (1898); read first half


Apr. 9-11


Vampirism and Excessive Orality
  • Dracula (1898); read second half


Apr. 16-18


Designing Evolution: Do animals want to be human?

  • The Island of Dr. Moreau (1898)

Apr. 23-5

"The coming universal wish not to live"
  • Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (1895); read first half

Apr. 30

"The coming universal wish not to live"
  • Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (1895); read second half
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, "What is Noble?" (TBA)
May 3*** No class  
May 4**** No class  

N.B. All the readings above not available on can be found free online, either through Google Books or through one of the ASU Library databases. Please note that to access such databases as JSTOR you must go through the validation page on first.

*Due date of critical paper #1
**Due date of critical paper #2
***Due date of take-home final
Due date of critical research paper.

  • Literature Online (database containing primary texts in British and American literature)
  • Literature Resource Center (provides access to a variety of primary and secondary texts, principally in British and American literature)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (biographies of British literary and historical figures)
  • Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (self-explanatory)
  • JSTOR (large database of secondary sources in a variety of disciplines, some reaching back to the nineteenth century)
  • Project Muse (large database of recent [1999-2008] secondary sources in a variety of disciplines)
  • Periodicals Archive Online (large database of secondary sources, many from the nineteenth century)
  • Nineteenth Century Masterfile (digital index: identifies locations of primary and secondary material; it also now links to full text versions of the material it indexes)
  • Academic Search Premier (large database of principally secondary source material)
  • MLA Bibliography (bibliographic index of secondary sources in modern language and literature)
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer

N. B. All the above sources can be searched online through the ASU Library website. You must go through this site in order to be validated to use these sources. The Library's "One Search" is very useful.


The sites below can be searched directly through the internet: