Spring 2020: Nineteenth-Century Social Reform and the Modern Conscience — ENGL 4500-002



Spring 2020: Nineteenth-Century Social Reform and the Modern Conscience — ENGL 4500-002


Mon. Jan 13, 2020 - Thu. Apr 30, 2020 (16 weeks)
Every Monday, Wednesday from 3:30 PM to 4:45 PM


New Cabell 594

Have you ever wished that you could make a difference in the world? How would you even know where to begin? In this course, you will explore the answers to these questions in a profound and surprisingly local way by exploring works of nineteenth-century British literature and the Charlottesville community. These works are the perfect place to go searching for answers because British writers personally knew about injustice, oppression, and poverty. They wrote to jolt their readers into improving the conditions surrounding women’s rights, child labor, urban squalor, and the slave trade. You will be inspired by their passion for social change and learn how to apply past reformers’ values to a range of modern social concerns. You will also think about how their reform movements can influence our modern practices of community engagement, local activism, and volunteer work. In the process, you will become a social activist in the Charlottesville community and learn about privilege, inclusivity, and diversity.

How will you achieve all of this? In this class, you will consider how Regency and Victorian writers addressed a range of social problems in various literary forms. You will discuss how the intersection between literature and social reform can limit, advance, or shape activism efforts. You will also be asked to perform volunteer work in the Charlottesville community through Madison House and tie your experiences to our readings through reflective practices. Finally, you will look at writers seen as turning away from social reform to focus on high society (Jane Austen and Henry James) and ponder whether they are really anti-reform. At a time when you may feel helpless about making a difference in the world, you can make an impact on one small part at a time. You will test George Eliot’s remark about local activism that “the effect of [Dorothea’s] being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.”

Credits: 3

Instructor: Indu Ohri (