English 161: The Unreasonable English Novel Detectives, Criminals, and Ghosts (Fall 2021)

This Course Fulfills the British Literature Requirement for English majors


If your idea of Victorian England is one of prudish men and women daintily drinking endless cups of tea in manicured parlours, then think again. In this class we will explore the darker side of 19th century Britain, and use reason as our guiding principle. We will follow brooding detectives, ruthless criminals, and psychic mediums as they challenge conventional rationality, and force us to rethink our perception of the Victorians. During the course of our explorations, we will ask whether there is a stable concept of “reason” and “rationality”, how the thirst for sex and crime narratives is a result of a rapidly expanding empire, and how a fascination with science and the scientific leads to an interest in all things bizarre. We will study the novel as our literary medium and explore the close relationship between the novel as a Victorian genre and the limits of reason. We will read novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Rudyard Kipling, and Henry James as we journey under dark bridges and through damp countryside.


Required Material

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four

Rudyard Kipling, Tales of Horror and Fantasy

Judith Flanders, The Invention of Murder

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

Henry James, Turn of the Screw

Copies of other texts to be provided by professor



Two long essays and one midterm exam, along with active class participation and attendance.


Instructor: Sunayani Bhattacharya   M/F 1:00-2:40