This class features close examination of a few classic novels from a great age of novel-writing, the 19th century. We will most likely read: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion; either Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters or Margaret Oliphant’s Miss Marjoribanks; and (definitely) George Eliot’s incomparable Middlemarch. (George Eliot was the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans).
The books we’ll study were written by women and feature female protagonists facing a variety of challenges in the society of their day. They take place in a changing rural England in the early to middle stages of the Industrial Revolution — a time when the long-established rules of society were under pressure and new questions arose about such matters as family, courtship and marriage, women’s ambition and scope for action, pride and honor, interpretation and rationalization, innovation and conservatism, old and new money, authority and power. The authors of these novels used their fiction to probe the question of what it means for individuals and society to become “modern.”