Victorian Literature and Architecture


Complete Syllabus in PDF

Course Description: In this class, we examine the idea that people are products of architectural spaces and styles, and observe  how these spaces become social, political, and transformative. By the end of the semester, students are able to articulate major design issues of the nineteenth century, iVictorian Land and Property: The Country Estatenterpret the purpose of domestic settings in Victorian literature, and produce multimodal projects on the relationships between architectural design and human identity.

Semester-Long Assignment: Teaching Presentation. In this project, groups of students  conduct research on one aspect of social history pertaining to the novels. These historical contexts are designed to guide readers in their understanding of the social issues that mediate relationships in the novel. I arranged thematic clusters of readings that explore the social and architectural history of the Victorian period. In groups of three, students lead one of those class sessions by performing additional research on the texts and issues I have prepared.  The groups deliver a brief lecture that incorporates their research, and they prepare discussion questions for the class. This assignment incorporates research, practice, and multimodality into its objectives.

Student Examples:

Unit I: A Personal History of the Home

Assignment. Before students venture into Victorian literature, they write a personal narrative that uses architecture as an organizing tool. The genre is creative non-fiction, allowing for embellishment of the details from their personal histories. For their essays, they draw upon memories from their childhood homes and capture the essence of their identity. They detail the structure of the space, as well as the design. What does it feel like to inhabit that space? How does the memory taste or smell? They consider how one aspect of their identity emerges from that space. The purpose of this project is for students to reflect firsthand on relationships between space and identity, so that they can identify these qualities in the literature and art they will examine afterward.

Unit II: A Social History of Domestic Architecture

Assignment: Digital Poster on Hard Times. In the first project students produced personal narratives that depicted childhood spaces in terms of their identities. In this project, students study the characters and spaces that populate Hard Times within their historical context. They present their theories on Dickens’s rhetorical strategies in the form of a digital poster. The objectives and outcomes of the assignment include the following:

  • To visualize characters and spaces, and their relationships, depicted in the Victorian novel
  • To engage with the emotions and beliefs of the novel, its characters, and its spaces
  • To construct a thesis, with supporting arguments and evidence, through the use of images,
    diagrams, and text strategically embedded into the digital plane (as opposed to a static printed
  • To become adept in visual communication platforms, such as Prezi, Photoshop, or Powerpoint,
    and to implement their features in logical and convincing ways; to notice the differences between the capacities of a digital poster and a print poster

Student Examples:

Unit III: Secrets of the Home

Assignment: Creative Project on Lady Audley’s Secret. Throughout the century, Victorians became increasingly invested in privacy. Servants were separated from the rest of the family, wives from husbands, children from mothers. Within these small, segmented rooms of the Victorian home, the individual was born. And this individual had secrets, secret identities, secret histories, secret vices. The Victorian sensation novel builds and unlocks the secrets of its characters, tucking them away in desks, boudoirs, and attics, and in this final unit we are observing how and why secrets are contained and released in nineteenth-century literature. The final project for this course asks students to engage in questions of privacy from both a nineteenth-century perspective and a twenty-first century perspective.

In the first project, students wrote a personal narrative that connected your individuality with a favorite childhood space. In the second project, students analyzed a fictional narrative from the point of view of a character moving throughout many spaces or from the view of a space that many characters inhabit. In this final project, students combine these two skills into a single creative project. In groups, students create a fictional narrative that engages with the relationships between characters and spaces.

Student Examples: