I’m putting together a syllabus for a general course on the Victorian novel, and am finding it difficult to decide what 5 or 6 novels to include. This syllabus is for a job application, so it is a course that I’d like to teach someday, rather than one that I will actually be teaching soon. I need to keep it general, but have decided to include a broad focus on representations of the family, especially alternative families (surrogate parents, siblings living with in-laws, adults living with parents, etc). I’m hoping that focusing on the decisions young adults had to face – marry or live with my parents, live with my parents or move in with my married sibling and his or her family, marry my cousin or someone outside of my family – will appeal to my future students, who lead radically different lives but are roughly the same age as the protagonists when they must make these difficult decisions.
Despite this thematic focus, I also have to ask, what are the key Victorian novels students should encounter in an introductory (second-year) course? And, will they actually read the longer novels I assign? Over at Novel Readings, Rohan Maitzen asked her readers what single nineteenth-century novel she should include in her British Literature Since 1800 class. I don’t have to pick just one novel, but am similarly thinking about what texts are truly representative Victorian novels. So far, I have come up with the following choices: Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847), Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1860), Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1860), George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-2), George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893) and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895). I think this is likely too much reading for a single semester course, so might need to pare down my choices. And I am unsure about Middlemarch for an entry-level class like this. I struggled to finish it as an undergraduate, though it is one of my favourite novels. Should I try to get through it, even if I lose some students? Are there other novels you would include?