Major Author:  The Year 1859

English 133 -- Major Authors -- Dr. Sonstroem

Meets: MWF 12:30-1:50  --  Education Building 205

My Office: 206B Knoles Hall  --  Office Phone: 946-2619

Office Hours: MWF 11-12 or by appt.  --  Email:

Warning:  The printed syllabus may quickly become out-of-date.  The official syllabus is on the web at:

Course Descripton:

Welcome to a fun and unusual approach to the idea of a "Major Authors" class. Instead of focusing on a single author's work, we will focus instead on an exciting and pivotal moment in history: the year 1859. OK, I know what you're thinking. You'll just have to take my word for it at this point. 1859 is exciting, pivotal, and a lot of fun. As Charles Dickens wrote in 1859, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…" And so much more! 1859 saw the publication or composition of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, Karl Marx's Critique of Political Economy, George Elliot's The Mill on the Floss, Wilkie Collin's The Woman in White, Samuel Smiles' Self-Help, Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market," . . . the list goes on. This is a wide range of material. What does a scientific work that challenges the very notion of who we are have to do with a sensationalistic ghost story? What does a history-changing treatise on economics have to do with a pedantic moral conduct manual? They all arose from the same cultural context, the same moment in history. They were all authored, in part, by the year 1859.

This course offers the opportunity for focused and in-depth research as we immerse ourselves in the grand and sordid world that was the Victorian age at its teetering height. We will be reading material ranging from very important to downright silly, from conventional novels to magazine and newspaper stories, even advertisements.  You will have the opportunity to write a formal, seminar-style paper, or to do a more creative research project.


Student Responsibilities:

Attendance is required.  You may miss three "personal days" for any reason (and I don't want to know the reason).  After that, your final class grade will drop 1/3 of a letter grade for each additional day missed.  If you have a valid, documented reason for needing to miss more classes (eg, a valid medical reason) talk to me about that early in the course. Chronic or extreme lateness will also not be tolerated, and may count as absences as well.  The same applies to failure to participate in classroom discussion or activities.

Read the assigned reading.  The reading load is designed to be manageable and it should be varied enough to remain fun and interesting.  If you keep up with the reading, then you can participate actively in classroom discussion and write papers that are engaged and interested.  Reading will be assessed by periodic, unannounced reading quizzes throughout the semester (in lieu of any exams).  Of course, failing to keep up with the reading is likely to adversely affect other components of your grade besides just the reading quizzes.  For example, without reading it would be hard to bluff your way through:

Active participation in discussions.  This is a small, seminar-style class, and as such it will be more discussion-driven than other classes you may have taken.  Every student counts.  We will learn from each other here, and discover the connections between our course material as a group.  Discussion skills (framing and supporting a complex argument in real-time, active listening, etc.) are some of the most valuable skills you can take away from an English class.  If you refuse to participate in classroom discussion, you do yourself a disservice by neglecting these discussion skills, and you also do a disservice to your classmates by depriving them of your insights and perspectives.  Active and regular participation in classroom discussion will therefore be assessed as part of your grade.  This component of your grade includes a responsibility for periodic "instigation questions," open-ended questions that raise issues about the assigned reading, and that prompt discussion on that day.

A pair of very short historical research papers (2 pages each), one on a given month in 1859, and one on a given issue from 1859, which you will be prepared to present to the class.  These will will become class material, and will form the skeleton of our historical understanding of this year.  They will also form the basis for a:

Contextualization paper (4 pages), in which you interpret one of the creative works we will be reading in terms of its historical context.  These will also be presented to the class.

Lead a class session.  Every student will have the opportunity to lead the discussion of class material on one of the meetings.  You will be able to choose the material you want to present, or suggest your own material from 1859.

A final paper/project.  You may choose to do a final analytical research paper (12 pages).  However, you may opt  to do a more creative project instead, based on our course material or other material from 1859.  Assignment coming soon.

And of course don't plagiarize. Please refer to your Student Handbook (Tiger Lore) for a complete statement of the University Honor Code, an essential element in the academic integrity of our campus community.  If I believe you to be in violation of the University Honor Code I will refer the matter to the Office of Student Life.  Penalties for violating the Honor Code can include suspension from the University.  In other words, if you plagiarize in this class, I will probably catch you, and you will probably end up in serious trouble.

Plagiarism is the attempt to pass off someone else's text or ideas as your own. If you copy or paraphrase from any outside source, even another student, and fail to formally acknowledge this in your text, you are guilty of plagiarism. If someone else writes a paper for you, or even part of a paper for you, you are guilty of plagiarism. If you are found guilty of plagiarism, you will receive an F for the assignment, an F for the course, and a letter will be sent to your dean. There are no exceptions.

Grade Breakdown:

Final grades will be calculated using the formula below.  Keep in mind that attendance can also adversely affect your final grade.  See "attendance" above.
Participation and Instigations   15%
Reading Quizzes   15%
2 2-Page Research Papers   15%
4-Page Contextualization Paper   15%
Lead a class session   15%
Final Paper/Final Project   25%
------------------------------------- ----------
Total   100%

Tentative Schedule of Readings and Assignments:

This schedule is more tentative than usual for 2 reasons:

1) This is a seminar class.  That means that you, the student, are encouraged more than ever to help shape the direction and form of the class.  Student suggestions for additional readings and/or changes to the reading are strongly welcomed.

2) This is a brand new idea for a class, which is exciting but which also introduces some healthy uncertainty.  I have a pretty good idea of some of the places this class will end up, but I can't be completely sure until we get there.  I reserve the right to make changes to the reading schedule to help focus the class themes as they emerge over the course of the semester.

I do promise, however, that there will be no surprise changes, and that the overall workload will not change significantly.

Week 1 Begins Jan 13
M Instig: Welcome.  Review syllabus.
W   WiW Installment 1

Harper's Magazine Excerpts, June through December, 1859 (handout)

F 1 WiW Installment 2

"The Victorian Age" (handout)


Week 2 Begins Jan 20
M MLK Holiday
W 2 WiW Installment 3

Visual art of 1859 (online)

F 3 From Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, August, 1859, "The Haunted and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain" (on reserve)


Week 3 Begins Jan 27
M 1 WiW Installment 4 p. 58-72

Mill "On Liberty" p.19-55

W 2 WiW Installment 5 p. 72-88

Mill "On Liberty" p.56-74

F 3 WiW Installment 6 p. 88-103

Mill "On Liberty" p. 75-93


Week 4 Begins Feb 3
M 1 WiW Installment 7 p. 103-122

Wilson Our Nig p. 1-39 (chapters 1-3)

W 2 WiW Installment 8 p. 123-143

Wilson Our Nigp. 40-90 (chapters 4-8)


Finish Wilson Our Nig p. 91-140 (chapters 9-appendix)


Week 5 Begins Feb 10
M 3 WiW Installment 9 p. 143-158

Richard Owen "The Gorilla and the Negro"

John Brown stuff: FAQ, a poem, and his Farewell Speech

W 1 WiW Installment 10 p. 159-176

Some Poetry  (online)

Due:  "Month" research paper.

F 2 WiW Installment 11 p. 177-193

"Scientific Exploration and Empire" article (on reserve)


Week 6 Begins Feb 17
M Presidents' Day
W 3 WiW Installment 12 p. 197-211

Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapters 3 & 4, pages 114-172.

F 1 WiW Installment 13 p. 211-226

Darwin The Origin of Species, Chapter 14, pages 435-460.


Week 7 Begins Feb 24
M 2 WiW Installment 14 p. 226-243

Library Day

W 3 WiW Installment 15 p. 243-258

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 1.

F 1 WiW Installment 16 p. 258-268

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 2.


Week 8 Begins Mar 3
M Individual Meetings This Week. WiW Installment 17 p. 268-277 (this installment ends in the middle of the chapter, after the lines "Who, for Heaven's sake?" "Anne Catherick."  [Da, Da, Dummm!!!!!])

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 3.

W WiW Installment 18 p. 277-291.

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 4.

F WiW Installment 19 p. 291-306.

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 5.

Due: "Issue" research paper.  Email this to me, or bring it by my office on Friday.



 Spring Break



Week 9 Begins Mar 17
M 2 WiW Installment 20 p. 306-320 (Oddly enough, the first 5 paragraphs of chapter 9 are included in this installment.  It ends with "The rain was only threatening; it had not come yet.")

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 6, Chapters 1-7.

W Philippa WiW Installment 21 p.320-338.

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 6, Chapters 8-14.

F Christina WiW Installment 22 p. 338-352 (This installment ends with "Gracious Heaven! my tiresome sister's foreign husband.  Count Fosco.")

Eliot Mill on the Floss. Book 7.


Week 10 Begins Mar 24
M   WiW Installment 23 p. 352-367 (This installment ends with "The only question I asked myself was--Had he found her?")

Rebecca Harding Davis “Life in the Iron Mill” (online)

W Renee WiW Installment 24 p. 367-382.

Rebecca Harding Davis “Life in the Iron Mill” (online)

F 3 WiW Installment 25 p. 382-397 (This installment ends with "Mrs. Rubelle Fairly laughed at me, this time; and replied in these words: 'Miss Halcombe, ma'am, has not left Blackwater Park, either.'")

Democratic Review readings (on reserve)


Week 11 Begins Mar 31
M 1 WiW Installment 26 p. 397-417.

Marx Critique of Political Economy (full text online here).  For today, read the "Preface" and "Chapter 1:  The Commodity"

Due: Contextualization Paper  (Click here for the assignment)

W Spencer WiW Installment 27 p. 421-433  (This installment ends at the bottom of 433, with " must nevertheless be recorded here before this explanatory narrative closes with the events of the next day at Limmeridge House.")

Marx Critique of Political Economy (full text online here).  For today read "Chapter 2: Money or Simple Circulation: Measure of Value" and "The Metamorphosis of Commodities."

F Alyssa WiW Installment 28 p. 434-448.

Christina Rossetti "Goblin Market" (online, and also look at this version online, with illustrations by DG Rossetti and Laurence Houseman) Longfellow "The Ropewalk" (online)


Week 12 Begins Apr 7
M 1 WiW Installment 29 p. 448-461.

Tennyson, from Idylls of the King.  Read "Dedication" and "The Coming of Arthur"

W Ashlie D'E. WiW Installment 30 p. 461-474.

Tennyson, from Idylls of the King.  Read "Pelleas and Ettarre" and "The Last Tournament"

F Lisa WiW Installment 31 p. 474-488.

Tennyson, from Idylls of the King.  Read "The Passing of Arthur" and "To the Queen"


Week 13 Begins Apr 14
M For a synopsis of the opera's plot, click here. WiW Installment 32 p. 488-502.

Richard Wagner: Opera, Tristan and Isolde.  "Dixie."

W  For the opera's libretto (with an English translation), click here. WiW Installment 33 p.502-514.

Richard Wagner: Opera, Tristan and Isolde.

F   WiW Installment 34  515-532.

Finish Wagner


Week 14 Begins Apr 21
M Student Travel Day
W She was... a woman!  She was wearing... WHITE! WiW Installments 35-38, p. 532-593.
F Teacher Travel Day


Week 15 Begins April 28
M Ashley R. WiW Installment 39, p. 593-614

Emerson, "Fate."

W Jesse WiW Installment 40, p. 615-645

Fitzgerald Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám Read quatrains 20-66, at least.

F   Final Project Draft Day

 Last Day of Classes: Monday, May 5.  Final Papers/Projects due by class time on this day.  Class meeting is mandatory, as we will be presenting final projects.