English 9132B

Hysterical Poetics: English Poetry 1855-90

Instructor: Professor Matthew Rowlinson.
Winter Half Course.

This course will provide a selective overview of British poetry between 1855 and 1890, taking Tennyson’s monodrama Maud as its point of departure. That poem’s protagonist diagnoses himself and his society as suffering from hysteria, and we will take this idea as a basis for focusing our discussion of late Victorian poetry on the topics of simulation, embodiment, and gender crossing, three motifs central to the period’s understanding of hysteria. We will consider major texts and writers, attending to generic and formal traits that characterize late Victorian poetry and to diverse ways in which it is implicated in the broader culture of its era. The seminar’s overarching theoretical project, however, will be to develop a practice of reading that renders visible and helps explicate Victorian poetry’s representations of the body and its techniques for inscribing bodily performance. We will discuss Victorian poetry’s preoccupations with skin, hair, and blood; we will also consider allegorical representations of the body and its parts, for instance in landscapes, plants, and buildings. To the spectacularization of the body that will appear as one of the main projects of Victorian poetry, we will link the period’s experiments in the transcription of colloquial language and dialect as well as its rich tradition of experimentation with metre as a technology for the inscription of accent and intonation.

Outside the field of poetry and poetics, the seminar will discuss other Victorian discourses of the body such as those of psychiatry and physiology. We may consider the texts of Darwin on the expression of the emotions, Elllis on sexuality, and Charcot and Freud on hysteria. 

Among the poets to be studied may be Tennyson, Robert Browning, William Morris, Swinburne, D G Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, George Meredith, Augusta Webster, Michael Field, G. M Hopkins, and Thomas Hardy.