Course Descriptions

“Word and Image in Victorian Literature”

Every day words and images come coupled together to convey arguments, be they the #hashtags which accompany Instagram photos or the droll witticisms of internet memes. Do we respond to these images and texts in the same way? In what ways is reading a text similar to viewing a work of art? Is it possible to “read” a painting the way one would read a text? How does the presence of an image—or lack thereof—alongside a text alter our understanding of it? Using these questions as our guide, this survey course explores the relationship between word and image in nineteenth-century prose and poetry. Reading Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the texts and textile designs of William Morris, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” William Blake’s illuminated poetry, John Ruskin’s prose-painting, and Pre-Raphaelite poetry and art, this course examines the interrelated rhetoric of word and image in order to understand the sorts of combinations, contrasts, and collisions of text and picture which make effective argumentation possible. In addition to traditional literary analysis essays, you will have the opportunity to create your own prose-paintings and internet memes.

“Medical Monsters of the Nineteenth Century”

Surgery and the writing process have a lot in common: both involve taking a body, (physical in the first case, textual in the second) cutting it apart to see how it works, extracting useful pieces, inserting new bits, and discarding others, all in attempt to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. This course uses the experimented-on physical body as an occasion to consider how we “experiment” on our own textual bodies, through examining the “medical monsters” of nineteenth-century British and American fiction. Reading “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we will learn how nineteenth-century medical experimentation challenged ideas of religion, gender, animality, and human identity. We will also learn how these texts articulated the Victorians’ ever-mounting anxieties about the generative and destructive possibilities of science. Visits to the Johnson Museum to view paintings by an artist who incorporated dissected insect parts, and Kroch Library, to view a lock of Charles Dickens’s hair, will supplement readings. Writing assignments will include literary analysis essays and exploratory digital dissections of a textual body of your choosing.

“Collecting Your Thoughts”

What do you like to collect? Stamps? Shells? Coins? Cats? Nineteenth-century Britain is known for its zealous collectors, and this class uses the era's collecting craze as an occasion to consider how academic writing, too, is a process of collecting things—be they ideas, words, or phrases—in order to assemble an argument. We'll read texts that feature obsessive collectors as well as ones containing collections of textual fragments. Exploring “Sherlock Holmes” stories and The Moonstone alongside modern reconfigurations of Victorian novels, we'll learn how Victorian collecting practices elicited questions of mental health, wealth, empire, and scientific method, ultimately setting the standard by which we judge collectors and their narratives today. Visits to the Johnson Museum, Heasley Mineralogical Museum, Wilder Brain collection, and Kroch Library will supplement readings, and you will have the opportunity to assemble your own cabinet of found curiosities for the class.

“Otherworldy Adventures”

What can visiting other worlds teach us about our own? In this course, British and American adventure fiction will aid us in formulating answers to this question. Through reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, H. Rider Haggard’s She, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, and the ballooning short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, we will learn how writers of the long nineteenth century used imagined literary worlds to help re-envision conceptions of gender, citizenry, time, and religion, as well as how such stories articulated anxieties about the ever-expanding global presence of the British and American nations. Adventures to sites around Cornell’s campus, including Triphammer Falls, the Johnson Museum, and Kroch Library’s rare books room will supplement class readings.