English 254a
Ashly Bennett
MW 12:30-2


Monstrous Readers and Poisonous Books:
Reading in 19th Century Britain

Seduced, addicted, deluded, distracted: as such cautionary images of readers accompanied the rising literacy and growing accessibility of books in nineteenth-century Britain, reading also accrued a different cluster of associations, connoting education, discipline, upward mobility, and even certain ideas of civilization and humanity.  We will explore the varied figures of the reader that circulated throughout written and visual texts of the period, including articles, paintings, illustrations, and books themselves by prominent novelists and poets.  As we examine the wide range of cultural concerns—from class mobility to shifting gender roles to colonial expansion—that fueled ambivalence about readers in the past, we will also consider how past attitudes illuminate current investments in book reading, as books are situated in relation to rapidly changing technologies for producing and distributing texts.

Likely Readings
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
Poetry by John Keats and Christina Rossetti
Essays by Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, Thomas Macaulay and Oscar Wilde
Paintings and illustrations by George Cruikshank, Augustus Leopold Egg and James Gillray. 

We will also read recent critical essays by Leah Price, Kate Flint, Patrick Brantlinger and others.

Course requirements: Two essays (4-5 pages and 5-6 pages),
a midterm exam, and a final exam.

English 254a satisfies the "Introductory Emphasis" requirement for the Haverford English major.