ENGL535 001 Psychology and Literary Consciousness in Victorian Literature

Studies in the Victorian Period
2019W Term 1
Instructor: Dr. Suzy Anger

Class Meetings: Tuesdays, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

What did the Victorians think about the mind? How did their theories enter into their literary texts and how did literary texts help shape those theories? In this seminar we will examine interactions between Victorian theories of mind and literature, asking how the naturalization of the mind in the nineteenth century, and resistances to that naturalization, transformed the representation of consciousness in Victorian texts. The modern discipline of psychology developed during the nineteenth-century alongside new understandings of the physical nature of the mind. New findings on brain physiology in the period gave rise to heated debates on topics such as the relation between body and mind, the workings of memory, the unity of the self, humans as automata, aberrant versus “normal” psychology, and the limits of consciousness. Those problems together with theories on the unconscious mind were quickly incorporated into literary texts, affecting the ways in which mentality, character, and action are conceived. We will take up a range of topics (dreams, heredity science, race science, evolutionary accounts of mind, women’s “nervous disorders,” insanity, animal minds, and unorthodox and occult psychologies such as mesmerism, telepathy, plant minds, ghost seeing, and subliminal consciousness) as we consider how the new views on mind influenced the form and content of Victorian fiction. We will also take a look at some critical work in the area.