Skip to the content
Cal State L.A.



Printer friendly version:

Prof. Jim Garrett
Office: E & T A608
Office Hours: W 4:30-6pm and by appt
Phone: (323) 343-4163

Course Description

Prerequisites: English 501 or 502 as prerequisite or co-requisite.

Description: In the “Preface” added to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, the poet William Wordsworth justified his seemingly simple and decidedly rural poetry by pointing to the shifts occurring in British society at the turn of the nineteenth century, shifts that we have now come to call mechanization, industrialization, capitalism, and urbanization. According to Wordsworth,

a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the encreasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies.

While Aristotle posited as self-evident that people come to the city to live but stay in the city to live the good life, the city as exemplar of civilization came under suspicion when civilization itself came under suspicion in nineteenth century Britain. The city in all of its vastness, strangeness, danger, beauty, and glory takes its modern shape in the nineteenth century, and Wordsworth was not alone in criticizing these developments and his concern that the overstimulation of the city has and will degrade human life should not be dismissed as pastoral nostalgia. Many modern environmental critics (or “ecocritics” as they are sometimes called) repeat Wordsworth’s assertion uncritically, maintaining a sharp distinction between the “natural” environment and the urban environment, and making claims such as this one by Neil Evernden: “The environmental repertoire is vastly diminished in urban life, perhaps to the point of making genuine attachment to place very difficult.”

Nineteenth century writers confronted the huge social and cultural shifts with more than nostalgia. In this course we will study the historical foundations of Britain’s rapid and for some nearly catastrophic industrialization and urbanization through poetry, novels, and contemporary reportage and criticism. We will look at the beginnings of industrialization through George Eliot’s historical novel Silas Marner, and then study the “condition of England” question through the emergence of the northern industrial city as described by Thomas Carlyle and Friedrich Engels and fictionalized by Elizabeth Gaskell. Second, we will turn to London and consider some of its many representations focusing specifically on novels by Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. We will conclude with a trip across the pond and some transatlantic connections between Britain and America at the end of the nineteenth century through an examination of Frank Norris’ The Pit, A Story of Chicago.

Please note that over the last eight weeks of the term we will be reading five novels, three of which weigh in at about 400 pages and one of which exceeds 1,000 pages.

Required Texts:

Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. New York: Penguin, 2003. (0141439726)

Eliot, George. Silas Marner. New York: Dover Publishing, 1996. (978-0486292465)

Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working Class in England. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. (978-0199555888)

Gaskell, Elizabeth. Mary Barton. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. (978-0199538355)

Norris, Frank. The Pit: A Story of Chicago. New York: Penguin, 1994 (978-0140187588)

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008 (978-0199535989)

Other texts will be made available online on the course web site ( sometime prior to the start of the Fall term. Once the website is available, contact me ( to acquire the password necessary to access restricted materials.

Course Requirements: Listed below are the requirements for this course. Please note that students must complete all assignments to pass this class.

·         Seminar Presentation (10% of your grade): A seminar presentation is a 15-20 minute (or beyond) presentation to the rest of the class about an assigned reading. For the presentation, plan to go beyond regular class preparation, at the very least, providing background about your topic, a generous overview, and a discussion of its relation to other readings for that week (or read earlier). You should also be prepared to answer questions and help lead class discussion for that topic. You should prepare a handout for the class; however, do not simply read from your prepared handout or paper.

·         Weekly Online Responses (20% of your grade): Each response is a 500 word posting that responds to one or more of the readings assigned for the week. You must complete seven weekly responses. Responses will be submitted online using a blog located at

Responses must be posted by 6pm on the Tuesday preceding the assigned readings.

·         Two Papers (each 25% of your grade for a total of 50%): Each paper is a 7-10 page paper on a topic of your own choice. An effective paper will engage some of the current scholarship and offer an original argument or perspective. 

·         A Final Exam (20% of your grade): The final exam will be modeled on Part 1 of the MA Comprehensive Exam. The exam will consist of a single essay question focused on a key issue explored during the seminar.


Grading Policy: Course grades are based on standard percentages (i.e. 90% and greater is some version of an A, 80%-89% is some version of a B and so on). Plus and minus grades are used in the class.

Cell Phones and Other Electronic Devices: Please turn off all cell phones, pagers, portable radios, televisions, computers, MP3/CD/Disc/Mini-disc players, and any other electronic communication and/or entertainment devices before coming to class.

Contacting the Instructor: Email is the most effective way of contacting the instructor.

Attendance: Be there or miss out on the fun. Please read the assigned texts before class. If you are absent, you are responsible for getting the assignment from a classmate.

Written Assignments: Please note the following carefully when preparing your written assignments for this class:

¨       Written assignments must be typed following standard formatting practices for college writing—use a readable type style (12 point type), indent paragraphs, double space between lines, and use one inch margins. Any style guide will contain information on formatting your written assignments for submission.

¨       Edit and proofread your work carefully before handing in written assignments

¨       Do not use plastic covers or report folders or title pages on your written assignments. Each assignment, though, should have your name, the course number, the date, and my name on separate lines (double-spaced) in the upper left corner of the first page. If the paper has a title, center it on the first page, after the above information.

¨       Use page numbers and place them in the upper right corner of the page. If you are uncertain how to have word processing software generate the correct page number in the header of your document, ask someone in one of the labs.

¨       MLA format and style conventions should be followed for all written assignments (essays and responses). For more information on MLA format and style conventions, see The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, the appropriate section of a recent (published after 2000) writer’s handbook, or one of the many reputable online sources.

¨       Late papers are not accepted. The assignment due dates are distributed on the first day of class, and the assignments are made available often weeks before they are due.

Academic Dishonesty/Cheating: Collaborating with others is encouraged when you are planning your papers, reviewing each other’s work, preparing for presentations or for exams. Study or reading groups can be effective ways to study and learn. However, when you write your papers, the text needs to be your own.

¨       You must carefully observe the standard rules for acknowledging the sources of words and ideas. If you make use of a phrase or a quote or if you paraphrase another writer’s words or ideas, you must acknowledge the source of these words or ideas telling us the source of these materials. APA and MLA style differ on the exact format of this attribution, but the simple version is the name of the author and the page number (if appropriate) in parentheses at the end of the sentence containing the use of the source material. If you fail to acknowledge properly the source of your text, you will receive a zero on the assignment and be reported to the Student Disciplinary Officer.

¨       If you plagiarize or otherwise misrepresent the source of your work, you will receive a zero on the assignment and be reported to the Student Disciplinary Officer.

5151 State University Drive . Los Angeles . CA 90032 . (323) 343-3000
© 2008 Trustees of the California State University

Last Update: 09/15/2013