In this seminar, we will be looking at how the home, as the hub of domesticity and family life, was transformed and re-shaped in the course of the Victorian era, both on a practical as well as on an ideological level. Taking the Victorian house as a haptic manifestation of many of the social, cultural and ideological changes that happened during this period, such as the emergence of a strengthened middle class, new attitudes to gender norms and gendered spheres, and an ever-stricter class system, we will examine the various layers and domains that permeated the Victorian house and governed life within its walls; exploratory the laws and happenings at work in these microcosms of 19th century life, as well as some of the more transgressive features detectable in their structure, we will look at how they represented larger phenomena at work at the time, and how they underpinned, but also potentially undermined them, questioning the authenticity of such popular tropes as the woman as the proverbial ‘Angel in the House’, the patriarch as the ‘Master of the Household’, or the cumbersome housekeeper, who functions as a stock character in so many of the great Victorian novels. But we will also look at how the significance of the home – as an enclosed, safe space in an increasingly industrialised and unstable world – emerged as a symbol of familial unity and personal happiness, at least for some, and link this up with some of the more contemporary scholarly discourses. Contrasting the endless rows nowadays prototypically Victorian middle class terraced houses and their internal makeup with some of the more gruesome slum areas of London, we will investigate the allure of respectability, stability and economic security, and how these projections came to be one of the pillars of Victorian social mobility and society’s social capital.
Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey. Ed. Marilyn Butler. London: Penguin Books, 2003. (Penguin Classics) (ISBN: 978-0141439792)
Charles Dickens. Bleak House. Ed. Stephen Gill. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. (Oxford World’s Classics Edition) (ISBN: 978-0199536313)
Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Margaret Smith. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2019. (Oxford World’s Classics Edition) (978-0198804970)
Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ed. Joseph Bristow. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. (Oxford World’s Classics Edition) (ISBN: 9780199535989)
Requirements: active participation in class; presentation; term paper (9-11 pp).