Course Description

phrenologie-535024804“The novelist,” wrote Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “can appeal to those delicate and subtle emotions, which are easily awakened when we are alone.” Bulwer-Lytton, an immensely popular writer in nineteenth-century Britain, was an influential voice in a longstanding debate about the influence of novels on the minds and behavior of a growing reading public. The plots of many of the period’s novels focus on questions raised in the new field of psychology that was developing at the time. Jane Austen portrayed courtship as a game of mind reading in Pride and Prejudice (1813); Charlotte Brontë documents the “half dream, half reality” of her heroine’s fluctuating mental states in Jane Eyre (1847); Robert Louis Stevenson dramatizes the idea of “double consciousness” in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). In this course, we will read a variety of nineteenth-century novels, focusing on their portrayals of mental experience, including emotion, cognition, learning, hallucination, trance, and dreams. In addition, we’ll read excerpts from works of psychology published during the era and contemporary literary criticism that examines the relationship between reading and psychology. We will put this material into dialogue in order to investigate the following questions: How did the Victorians understand the mind? How might have the popularity of novel reading influenced the minds—and social relations—of readers? How does the experience of twenty-first-century readers of these novels compare to that of nineteenth-century readers?

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