Topic for Fall 2023:
Sensational Victorians: The Impact and Influence of Victorian Sensation Fiction
Once a marginalized genre, sensation fiction has come to the forefront of scholarly attention today because of its iconoclastic portrayal of gender, class, and race in Victorian Britain. A version of Gothic that showcased modernity rather than antiquity, Victorian sensationalism was notorious for racy plots, femmes fatales, and depictions of the criminal underworld. Despite being decried as pulp fiction by Victorian critics, sensation fiction was, in fact, a significant influence on canonical works of the period. In this seminar we will read several of the most important sensation texts—Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret—as well as prominent novels influenced by sensationalism, such as Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Assignments include a short and a longer paper, as well as participation in a roundtable in which a student group leads a discussion on critical essays on our reading.