This course will consider how the Victorian novel treats the world of political action. If the novel is in part a form that renders the epic deeds of warfare in an up-to-date, realistic medium, then the arena of politics is in some ways its quintessential manifestation, representing the modern, moderate solution to the kinds of progress that used to be achieved through arms. Yet politics often occupy a marginal place in the novels of the day. We will look at how techniques of the novel tackle the difficult subject of government. How can a novelist describe the piecemeal action of legislation, whether through elections or acts of parliament? What’s the relationship between such subjects and descriptions of more epic deeds in these works (revolutions, duels, etc.)? What role is given to women and to the courtship plot in political novels? Can politicians ever be heroic?
As we ask such questions, we will also be considering some of the important political issues and events of the period, such as the Reform Acts, the Irish Question, the Woman Question, and the Condition of England. We will engage with a wide variety of critical sources, both Victorian and contemporary.