HON 394: From Dinosaurs to Snakebites: Victorian Literature, Science, Sexuality, and Imperialism

In this course, we examine a range of popular Victorian novels that engage with the relatively new and still emergent Victorian sciences—including geology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, physiology, vivisection, immunology, and archeology—in order to think through the ways in which nineteenth-century British notions about race, gender, sexuality, imperialism, and colonialism not only infuse the natural sciences during the Victorian era but also come to be constitutive of those sciences themselves: their scientific modes of inquiry, their ways of understanding scientific discovery, and even their strategies for explaining broader issues such as Britons’ relationship to non-Europeans, to animals, and to prehistory and gender and sexual relations among Britons.

The Victorian period was time of rapid scientific advancements, and it was during this period that many of the sciences we take for granted today emerged as discreet professional fields of inquiry and burst onto the popular scene such that the sciences became topics of everyday reading, conversation, and debate for many Britons. The Victorian period was also a time during which shifting notions of race, gender, and sexuality came to offer popular ways of understanding British supposed "civilized" superiority in relation to cultural difference in the colonies, and of understanding normative and nonnormative genders and sexualities both in the metropole and in the Empire.

We investigate the entanglements of these discourses of race, gender, and sexuality and their relationship to Victorian scientific ways of knowing by reading not only novels but also selections from nineteenth-century popular periodicals and newspapers as well as nineteenth-century scientific texts—by authors such as Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, Austen Henry Layard, Richard Owen, and others—in order better to understand the scientific and popular debates these novels engage, and in order to think through these novels in their cultural and historical contexts. Novels and short stories may include Wilkie Collins's Heart and Science (1883), H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon’s Mines (1885), H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), Richard Marsh's The Beetle (1897), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912), Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," and others.

Course semester: 
Spring 2019 Session C
Instructor: 
David Agruss