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EN9A1 Victorian Materialities

Spring Term, Thursday 11.00 - 1.00t02075_9.jpg

Room: H3.44

Module convenor: Tara Puri (t.puri@warwick.ac.uk)

Office hour: Thursday 4.00 - 5.00, in Room 3, Institute of Advanced Study, Millburn House



The Victorians’ fascination with the increasingly opulent and diverse material culture of their time has become a central concern for the field of Victorian studies, particularly in the last decade. In keeping with this ‘material turn’, we will focus on the numerous, seemingly trivial objects that populate the writing of the period, existing on the fringes of the reader’s consciousness. The module attempts to explore the dynamic ways in which subjects and objects merge, become metonyms of each other, and find themselves materially transformed through this exchange. We will examine a wide range of literary and cultural concepts, and consider the porous boundaries between Victorian subjects and objects, as well as the category of ‘thing’ – following Bill Brown’s notion of the ‘thing’ as an intermediary between subject and object. The aim of the module is to investigate how these artefacts contribute to an understanding Victorian literature and culture. While literature is the dominant focus of the module, we will also look at some paintings, literary illustrations and fashion plates from women’s magazines.


Week-by-week outline:

Week 1: Introduction
Bill Brown, ‘Thing theory’, Critical Inquiry 28 (2001): 1-22.
Karl Marx, ‘The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof’, from Capital (1867), Vol I, Part I, Chapter 1, Section 4: Marx-Commodity-Fetishism.pdf
Victoria Mills, ‘Introduction: Victorian Fiction and the Material Imagination’, 19 6 (2008): Mills-Material-Imagination.pdf

Household gods
Week 2: George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
Augustus Egg’s paintings A young lady at her dressing table (1850s) and the series Past and Present

Week 3: Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (1848)
Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel, Chapter 2.

Imperial possessions
Week 4: The Great Exhibition
Louise Purbrick (ed), Introduction to The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays.
Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914, Chapter 1.
Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830-1880, p. 141-166.

Week 5: Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)
Suzanne Daly, The Empire Inside: Indian Commodities in Victorian Domestic Novels, Chapter 3.

Thingly bodies/ bodily things
Week 6: Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)
Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things, Chapter 3.

Week 7: Selected poetry
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet XVIII ‘I never gave a lock of hair away’ (From Sonnets from the Portuguese)
Robert Browning, ‘Gold Hair’
Tennyson’s ‘The Ringlet’
Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’
Selected letters from the correspondence between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth G. Gitter, ‘The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination’, PMLA, 99: 5.

Gendered consumption
Week 8: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
Fashion plates from various Victorian magazines.

Week 9: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)
Krista Lysack, Come Buy, Come Buy: Shopping and the Culture of Consumption in Victorian Women’s Writing, Chapter 2.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting Lady Lilith.

Freudian objects
Week 10: Freud, ‘Fetishism’ (1927)


Further reading:
Armstrong, Isobel, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830-1880, Oxford University Press, 2008.
Barringer, T.J. & T. Flynn (eds.), Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture and the Museum, Routledge, 1998.
Briggs, Asa, Victorian Things, Penguin, 1988.
Brown, Bill, ‘Thing Theory’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 1, Things, 2001, pp. 1 - 22.
Burman, Barbara, and Carole Turbin, eds., Material Strategies: Dress and Gender in Historical Perspective, Blackwell Publishers, 2003.
Candlin, Fiona and Raiford Guins, eds., The Object Reader, Routledge, 2009.
Cohen, Deborah, Household Gods: The British and their Possessions, Yale University Press, 2006.
Cohen, William A., Embodied: Victorian Literature and the Senses, University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
Daly, Suzanne, The Empire Inside: Indian Commodities in Victorian Domestic Novels, The University of Michigan Press, 2011.
Freedgood, Elaine, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel, The University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Fromer, Julie E., A Necessary Luxury: Tea in Victorian England, Ohio University Press, 2008.
Gilbert, Pamela K., Disease, Desire, and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Gitter, Elizabeth G., ‘The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination’, PMLA, Vol. 99, No. 5, 1984, pp. 936 - 954.
Lysack, Krista, Come Buy, Come Buy: Shopping and the Culture of Consumption in Victorian Women’s Writing, Ohio University Press, 2008.
McClintock, Anne, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context, Routledge, 1995.
Miller, Andrew H., Novels Behind Glass: Commodity Culture and Victorian Narrative, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Mills, Victoria, ‘Introduction: Victorian Fiction and the Material Imagination’, 19 6, 2008.
Nead, Lynda, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London, Yale University Press, 2000.
Plotz, John, Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move, Princeton University Press, 2009.
Purbrick, Louise, The Great Exhibition of 1852: New Interdisciplinary Essays, Manchester University Press, 2001.
Rappaport, Erika, Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End, Princeton University Press, 2000.
Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914, Stanford University Press, 1991.