SLN: 26371
M 6:05-8:55 pm
CDS 143

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ENG 635: Victorian Sexuality

Spring 2010 Syllabus

This course meets on Mondays from 6:05 to 8:55 pm

The format will be a seminar format. Monday nights will be taken up with short lectures and discussions of the readings as well as intensive discussion of student seminar papers.. All students must read and comment on their fellow students' papers during the discussion. Readings are listed below on the syllabus. In addition to completing the weekly reading, submitting the writing assignments, and attending class regularly and participating in in-class discussion, 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, presentation, and research skills.

Dan Bivona
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Although the twentieth century has smugly labeled the nineteenth century as the age the age of repression, the Victorians in England had, if anything, a culture-wide obsession with sex. The marital theme in Victorian fiction, the invention of the new field of "sexology," debates about gender roles and their relationship to biological "instincts," assertions linking poor women with “immoral sexuality,”  considerations of masculinity and femininity, speculations about sex in the afterlife or whether masturbation caused blindness or insanity, or the preoccupation with the nocturnal adventures of vampires and other unwholesome creatures: all these things indirectly testify to the fact that men and women in Britain found sex to be an endlessly fascinating -- if ofttimes indelicate -- topic.  In this course, we will cover this topic as broadly as possible within the constraints of a one-semester course. Our approach will be interdisciplinary. Readings will include passages from Freud and other Victorian sexologists, contemporary theory (Foucault and Butler), novels and poetry of the period.  Requirements include regular participation in in-class and Blackboard discussions, 4 brief seminar papers, and 1 critical research paper.

Where it can be found
Due Date
% of Final Grade
4 critical papers, 400-600 words in length (1.5-2.5 pages).
topics should be drawn from the reading and discussion material of the week it will be discussed in class; you should write on the material to be discussed in class during the week your paper is due.

due in the Digital Drop Box on Sunday before the Monday discussion at

12 PM

1 critical research paper (15-20) pages)
topics in the "Assignments" area of Blackboard
due in the Digital Drop Box on May 10, 11:59 PM
weekly contributions to class discussion, on Blackboard and in class; all students are required to read all the seminar papers in advance of Monday class and pose questions during Monday discussions
"Discussion Board" area of Blackboard and in class
throughout; you will receive a letter grade for in-class contributions, attendance, and Blackboard participation 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 6.25% of your final grade and the revision grade will count for 6.25%. Revisions are due in the Digital Drop Box on the final day of class, May 4.

The critical papers should be 400-600 words in length (1.5-2.5 pages). This word limit will be strictly policed. These papers are to be submitted to the digital drop box in Blackboard no later than 12 pm (noon) on the Sunday before Monday seminar paper discussion.   Grade will be reduced one grade for every day the paper is late.  Use  MLA Format  for citations. Individual due dates of these papers will be determined on the second day of class.

Seminar paper discussions:   On the second day of class, I will assign individual students responsibility for leading the discussions of individual papers, although all students are required to read the papers to be discussed before class. The job of the discussion leader is to focus class discussion on the paper's thesis and evidence, and to do so while inviting ways of strengthening the argument by broadening the reach of it. The best way to begin such a discussion is to summarize the argument of the paper briefly, first, and then to let the group know if you agree or disagree with the argument. You can use the paper as an opportunity to open up important issues for class discussion that may perhaps transcend the argument made by the student in his or her paper.

All students should bring either paper copies of the papers to be discussed every Monday, a laptop for accessing the papers, or extensive notes on the papers.

The class will be divided into three groups of 5: A, B, and C. One week, the "A" group will write papers. The discussion of the "A" group papers that week will be led by the member of the "B" group. The next week, the "B" group will write papers and the members of "C" group will lead the discussion of them in class. And so on. We will follow this pattern for the 12 weeks set aside for seminar paper discussion. A spreadsheet identifying which group you have been assigned to and what weeks you owe a paper or are expected to lead a discussion will be available in the "Assignments" area of Blackboard on the first day of class..

The Guidelines for paper grading can be found here:

The final paper, a critical research paper, should be 15-20 pages in length. You should use at least five secondary sources. Suggested topics will be found on the course Blackboard in the "Assignments" area, although I expect that most students will develop their papers by expanding ideas rehearsed in a seminar paper.

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 9 AM on Monday of each week to be counted for that week.

Topics raised in 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
Brontë, Emily Wuthering Heights* (1847) Oxford UP
Dickens, Charles Little Dorrit** (1855-7) Penguin
Eliot, George The Mill on the Floss** (1862) Oxford UP
Wood, Mrs. Ellen East Lynne** (1861) Broadview
Wilde, Oscar The Picture of Dorian Gray* (1890) Oxford UP
Wells, H. G. The Island of Dr. Moreau* (1897) Random House
Stoker, Bram Dracula* (1897) Penguin
Foucault, Michel The History of Sexuality, Vol. I* (1977) Knopf/Doubleday
Butler, Judith Gender Trouble* (1990) Routledge

These books are currently available at the ASU Bookstore. Additional shorter readings will appear in the "Reserve" area of Blackboard. Others are available on the Web.

*These works should be read completely in time for the first day of discussion..

**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/Lectures
Jan. 25

Introduction to the course

  • Lecture: The Familial Ideology in the 19th C
Feb. 1 Foucault and Victorian Sexology
  • Foucault;
  • Krafft-Ebing [from Psychopathia Sexualis. 1922 ed. Google Books. Pp. 1-47];
  • Freud [from Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. [reserve]
  • Matthew Arnold, "The Buried Life" (1852) [reserve]
Feb. 8 Passion and the Bildungsroman
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Kincaid [reserve]
  • 1A papers due
Feb. 15 Performative Gender
  • Gender Trouble
  • 1B papers due
Feb. 22 Erotic Children
  • Little Dorrit;
  • "She Noodles" [reserve]
  • 1C papers due
Mar. 1 Roaming Women and the Moral Necessity of Incest
  • Little Dorrit
  • 2A papers due
Mar. 8 Incest and Renunciation
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • 2B papers due
Mar. 15
Spring Break
Mar. 22 The Passions of a Sister
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • 2C papers due
Mar. 29 Sensation Fiction, Sentimentality, and Victorian Journalism
  • East Lynne
  • Excerpts from Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments and Edmund Burke, ...the Sublime and the Beautiful [See reserve]
  • 3A papers due
Apr. 5   Sensation Fiction, Matriarchy, and Ferocious Maternality
  • East Lynne
  • Excerpts from Bachofen and Sir Henry Maine, Ancient Law (TBA)
  • 3B papers due
Apr. 12 Aestheticism and Sexuality
  • Michael Field: "A Portrait;" "Sometimes I do Despatch my Heart;""So Jealous of Your Beauty;""A Girl;" "Unbosoming;" "Embalmment;" "The Mummy Invokes His Soul" [reserve]
  • Walter Pater: "Conclusion"[reserve]
  • Swinburne, "Hymn to Proserpine" [reserve]
  • Buchanan , "The Fleshly School of Poetry" [reserve]
  • Wilde, Salome
  • 3C papers due
Apr. 19 Urbanity, Homoeroticism, and Scandal
Apr. 26 Eugenics, Darwinism, and Detachment
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau
  • 4B papers due
May 3 Unwholesome Desires
  • Dracula
  • Symons on the Decadence
  • 4C papers due
May 10   No Class. Final papers due in Digital Drop Box
N.B. All the readings above not ordered through the ASU Bookstore can be found on our Blackboard site in the "Reserve" area or on the Web. "TBA" locations will be announced later in the course.
  • Start searches with the new ASU Library One Search (beta).
  • 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 is not a database of primary source material)
  • Academic Search Premier (large database of principally secondary source material)
  • MLA Bibliography (bibliographic index of secondary sources in modern language and literature)

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 sites below can be searched directly through the internet: