The Ideas in Things: Commodities and Consumer Culture in the Victorian Novel Course Description

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Instructor: Jackie Amorim Course: ENL 3122-4H16

Email: Term: Summer B

Office: TBD Time: MTWRF Period 5

Office Hours: By Appt Room: TUR 2349

The Ideas in Things:

Commodities and Consumer Culture in the Victorian Novel

Course Description:
The Industrial Revolution and the boom of empire together fundamentally changed 19th century England: not only were urban industrial cities now a reality, but suddenly both mass-produced commodities from English factories and exotic goods imported from distant locales were a central part of everyday English life. This course looks to the “things” that suddenly inundated the lives of Victorians in order to understand how the Victorians used these commodities, their symbolic meanings, and their representation in literature to make sense of their world.
This course will examine representative 19th century novels, as well as supplementary materials (shorter fictional works and cultural artifacts from the period - photographs, ads, newspaper articles, catalogues, etc.), in order to garner a better understanding of the symbolic value assigned to commodities in Victorian literature and culture, while keeping an eye towards the importance of literature as commodity. We will begin by examining texts that use commodities and consumer culture as a site for working out anxieties relating to sudden urbanization and industrialization, as well as texts that grapple with the new advent of mass-production and its relationship to both individual and class identity. Building upon this unit, we will next seek to understand how foreign commodities and their attendant meanings in Victorian literature brought scenes of empire into every English home; we will also examine how English writers used foreign commodities in their writing to wrestle with ideas relating to empire, “progress” and globalization. Though we will discuss gender, race and class throughout these units, the last unit turns to a more focused discussion of commodities and the body. As part of this unit we will investigate food, or edible commodities, and the ways many of these commodities further reflected anxieties about consumption and invasion, illness and want, paying particular attention to the gendered and raced aspects of these anxieties.
The student learning outcomes for this course are as detailed in the Undergraduate Catalog at:

Required Texts:

Book Title




Lady Audley’s Secret

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Oxford University Press


The Moonstone

Wilkie Collins

Penguin Classics



H. R. Haggard

Oxford University Press


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

Penguin Classics


All other readings will be provided by the instructor.

You are expected to print these handouts and bring them to class.


Your grade will be based on your performance in the following areas: participation, blogs, quizzes, short responses, and two papers. Each of these components consist of the following percentage of your final grade:

Participation: 100 points (10%)

Reading Quizzes 210 points (21%) Daily Participation = 31% of grade

Blogs 240 points (24%)

Short Responses 100 points (10%) Short Assignments = 34% of grade

Paper 1 150 points (15%)

Paper 2 200 points (20%) Formal papers = 35% of grade

The participation grade is simple. You will receive credit for participating if you contribute anything at all to the discussion on any given day: a complex thought, clarification, any kind of question related to the assignment, etc. If you do not participate in the discussion you will receive no credit.
The daily reading quizzes are also simple. Each consists of five questions that will be relatively easy to answer if you’ve completed the reading assignment for that day. The daily quiz begins promptly at the start of class, so arrive on time and have pen and paper ready. These quizzes are my way of ensuring you’ve completed the readings on time and have a good understanding of them. I give daily quizzes instead of a final exam. If you are not on time for class you will not be allowed to take the quiz. I will drop your three (3) lowest-scoring quizzes when calculating your final grade for the course.
The blog is where you get to express to the rest of the class an insight, interpretation, or question that have thought about as you engage with the course materials at home. You’ll blog on Tumblr twice a week throughout the semester. These will be relatively open-ended in topic, but they should reflect critical thinking and careful consideration of the materials. A hand-out providing more information will be distributed.
The short responses are essentially short essay responses to a question I will give you to answer at home. This in part functions a sort of “take-home quiz,” as well as a chance for you to formulate sophisticated answers, in writing, to important questions as you read. Each one of these assignments will have its own directions along with the question you are to answer.
The (2) papers (1200-1500 words each) should demonstrate your ability to critically analyze the Victorian texts you’ve been reading. Developing any idea from class discussion (and not just summarizing it) is a good way to start thinking about these papers. Feel free, however, to write about any other topic not covered during class. Whatever you choose to write about, your papers should be argument-driven, engage critically with the text(s) in question, contain evidence (in the form of quotations), and revolve around a single, central idea.

Writing will be evaluated based on the assessment of five domains: focus, content, organization, style, and conventions. Areas of consideration include overall argument, thesis, explication and support of argument/thesis, development of ideas/paragraphs, sentence structure, style, and grammar.

Course Policies


Missing more than two classes will constitute reason for failure. Religious holidays and university events are the only things that count as excused absences (note: illness is NOT an excused absence). Please notify me in advance if you will miss a class for either of the excused reasons. And, of course, missed daily work, quizzes, and participation reflect negatively on those components of the final grade.


Plagiarism is a serious violation of the Student Honor Code. You commit plagiarism when you present the ideas or words of someone else as your own. Any student who plagiarizes all or any part of an assignment will receive no credit for that assignment. Remember, you are responsible for understanding the University's definitions of plagiarism and academic dishonesty, which can be found here:

Classroom Disruptions:
Our class is as discussion-based as possible and we will always respect each other's views. Also, out of respect for each other, we will not use our cell-phones (or other similar technological distractions) during class time. If your phone should ring during class, you will lose participation points. If you have a personal emergency and must keep your phone on one day, please discuss it with me before class.


I encourage you to see me if you have questions. Email me or stop by during my office hours if you have any questions about the course, an assignment, or any other concerns. Emailing ahead of time will ensure I have more time to devote to you. If my office hours don’t work for you, please contact me and we can schedule a better time. Please note that while I will be happy to help you with your writing, understand that you will not automatically receive an “A” if you meet with me before turning it in. Also, if you’d like to meet with me about your writing, note that you should come to the conference with specific questions about your draft to ask me.


Please check your email frequently. I send a lot of information via email including important reminders, clarifications, notices, class cancellations as well as notes and worksheets to print out before class.

Final grade appeals:

Students may appeal a final grade by contacting Professor Robert Thomson, Director of Undergraduate Studies. Understand that grade appeals may result in a higher, unchanged, or lower final grade.

Other Important Information:

This course can satisfy the UF General Education requirement for Composition or Humanities. For more information, see:

This course can satisfy the UF requirement for Writing. For more information, see:
The Disability Resource Center in the Dean of Students Office provides students and faculty with information and support regarding accommodations for students with disabilities in the classroom. For more information, see:
UF provides an educational and working environment for its students, faculty, and staff that is free from sex discrimination and sexual harassment. For more about UF policies regarding harassment, see:
All students are required to abide by the Student Honor Code. For more information about academic honesty, including definitions of plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration, see:

-----Week 1-----

--------------------------Week 1--------------------------

-----Week 1-----

M: 07/01

  • Syllabus Review

  • Historical Background: Excerpt provided by instructor (email)

T: 07/02

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Cry of the Children

  • Excerpt of Mayhew’s London Labor and London Poor

  • C. Duncan Lucas, from Scenes from Factory London

  • Annie Besand, from White Slavery in London

W: 07/03

  • Marx, “The Fetishism of Commodities” (excerpt)

  • Freud, “Fetishism” (excerpt)

  • On The Great Exhibition of 1851: Photos and Reading Excerpt Provided by instructor

Reading Response 1

R: 07/04



F: 07/05

  • North and South

-----Week 2-----

--------------------------Week 2--------------------------

-----Week 2-----

M: 07/08

  • Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret

T: 07/09

  • Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret

  • On Make-up: Excerpt provided by instructor

W: 07/10

  • Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret


R: 07/11

  • Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret

  • Katherine Montwieler, "Marketing Sensation: LAS and Consumer Culture"

Reading Response 2

F: 07/12

  • Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (Finish)

  • Excerpt from Dickens, Old Curiosity Shop

-----Week 3-----

--------------------------Week 3--------------------------

-----Week 3-----

M: 07/15

  • Collins, The Moonstone (Ch. 1-14)

T: 07/16

  • Collins, The Moonstone (Ch. 15-18)

  • Excerpt, Said’s Orientalism

W: 07/17

  • Collins, The Moonstone (Finish Book 1)


R: 07/18

  • Collins, The Moonstone (Ch. 1-7)

F: 07/19

  • Collins, The Moonstone (Finish Book 2)

  • Advertisements/Catalogues Provided by Instructor


-----Week 4----

--------------------------Week 4--------------------------

-----Week 4-----

M: 07/22

T: 07/23

  • Collins, The Moonstone (finish)

W: 07/24

  • DeQuincy, Confessions of an Opium Eater

R: 07/25

  • Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez

Reading Response 3

F: 07/26

  • FLEX DAY/Instructor will adjust or assign reading

-----Week 5-----

--------------------------Week 5--------------------------

-----Week 5-----

M: 07/29

  • Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


T: 07/30

Reading Response 4

W: 07/31

  • Excerpt from “Aunt Martha’s Cupboard”

R: 08/01

  • Soap ads, McClintock excerpt provided by instructor

F: 08/02

  • Haggard, She

-----Week 6-----

--------------------------Week 6--------------------------

-----Week 6-----

M: 08/05

  • Haggard, She

  • Sales catalogues: Imperial gear (provided by the instructor)

T: 08/06

  • Haggard, She

W: 08/07

  • Haggard, She

R: 08/08

  • Sugar and Slavery:

  • Cowper, “Pity for Poor Africans”

  • Browning, “Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”

F: 08/09

  • Classes End/Course Wrap-up


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