The first time I taught a Victorian Literature survey, fresh out of a curriculum integration workshop in graduate school, I taught ten authors: five male and five female. One student evaluation after the course was over complained that despite the promise of “great” Victorian writers, half of those on the syllabus were women. While this did take place in the dark ages of the early nineties, I still find myself, as I design my syllabi, caught in the familiar conundrum as to what to teach, what to cut, and why. In my case, it seems simple: The Victorian period is characterized by great authors who are also women, so I try to teach them. Lest that seem flip, I hasten to add that one important element in the course is interrogating the notion of greatness, or of canonicity: Should we read what the Victorians actually read, or the texts that have become part of our intellectual history since the 1950s? Should we teach a story of the development of English, or, alternatively, the literary history of English engagement with its empire or, possibly, the rise of the professions? Faith and doubt, the Woman Question, Industrialization—the terms label sections of our anthologies and help to structure our courses. A truly integrated survey would cover all these issues and more, with authors representing the varied genders, sexualities, classes, and races of writers in Victorian England.

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Copyright © 2005 Peter Lang. This chapter first appeared in Teaching British Women Writers.

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