Final Essay Topics

Final Essay Topics and Classroom Collaboration

Last class, I asked you to write brief paragraphs describing potential final essay topics that you would feel comfortable developing for someone else from our class to use as a kind of gesture toward “open access.” Here are the results! I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve reworded some of your paragraphs to give them a little more significance to how I have envisioned the major themes in our class discussions. Overall, these are all fantastic questions, and you should all be proud of your critical thinking about course material. These questions affirm my faith that undergraduate students can develop sophisticated and compelling topics for their essays if they are encouraged to do so.

  1. Discuss metaphor and metamorphosis in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H”. How do Tennyson’s depictions of selfhood reflect his personal stages of grief? What do his different metaphorical representations of self say about his relationship with the late A.H.H, and what does this imagery do to our perceptions of Tennyson as a poet as well as a friend? Do Tennyson’s depictions of himself take on an inappropriate tone, or strike the reader as reverent and enlightening? Finally, how do his different forms lead us to question his relationship with God and the natural world?
  2. Someone could write on the concept of (or the lack of) heroes during the Victorian Era, using Carlyle’s writings on this topic. What exactly constitutes a hero for the Victorians? Is a hero merely a “captain of industry?” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall might be considered a novel about heroism (or lack of heroism). Discuss Helen’s methods in raising her son Arthur. Or discuss the idea of Gilbert being “not heroic enough” or “man enough” for Helen in the novel. Basically, one discuss Bronte’s critique of masculine notions of heroism in the novel as a whole, perhaps with reference to the concept of the Byronic hero.
  3. Compare one reading from Week 4 with one reading from Week 8, with the intention of either comparing or contrasting how closely aligned the two are in their exploration of Victorian notions of prejudice. Discuss in particular the contrasts between text/author intentions and the actual texts themselves. For example, one interpretation of “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” could view the main character as hopeful, and another could view the main character as hopeless. How might these differences of interpretation relate to the distinction between meaning derived from authorial intentions and meaning derived from textual analysis.
  4. Using the Sadler Report (1832) as evidence (, discuss one literary text on the topic of child labour and how it relates to the economic and political goals of Victorian critics of child labour practices.
  5.  Or, develop an essay about the cultural history of the Victorian industrial revolution. How deliberately were E.B.B., L.E.L., and Cook influenced by immediate political and cultural debates in the early Victorian period?
  6. What do the texts we have studied suggest about the role of women in the public, private, and political spheres? Consider, for example, how the calls to protest, bring about political change, and usher in equality into the era came primarily from women such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Consider, also, how a book like The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was criticized for its indelicacies regarding Victorian gender norms, and how Bronte, under her pen name, had to actually defend the “truth” of the novel’s depictions of domestic abuse. Consider also the interplay between the feminine and the masculine, and what the abusive relationship in the novel suggests about the perceived roles of women in the Victorian era.
  7. In what ways are the Victorian era’s economic, political, and/or cultural concerns similar to our own today. Discuss with specific reference to a Victorian innovation or development that has some direct bearing on our own times. For example, see Dr. Martin’s blog recent blog post about the Victorian origins of today’s transatlantic internet cables. Or, develop this topic in relation to current literary interests in steampunk, neo-Victorianism, or media archaeology.\
  8. Discuss the topic of death and the value of “Life” as it is explored in Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” How prevalent was the poem’s praise of adventure and nobility of action in the Victorian period as a whole? To what extent does the poem still resonate with postmodern readers?
  9. Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall criticizes the conventional forms of Victorian hospitality. Discuss the ways in which Bronte’s novel exposes the problems, especially for women, of Victorian notions of polite behavior, hospitality, and gendered social norms.
  10. Explore the broad theme of language in Tennyson’s In Memoriam. In the poem’s opening sections, Tennyson worries that language (poetry) fundamentally has no real purpose, but as the poem develops so do Tennyson’s perspectives on the value of language. What is Tennyson’s final conclusion about language/poetry? How does this conclusion relate to his ideas about faith and science?
  11. Discuss Tennyson’s In Memoriam as a poem that contains implicit or explicit references to homoeroticism or homosociality. To what extent have critics of the poem made connections between Tennyson’s grief in the poem, his excessive longing for his best friend, and the language of love/sexual desire?
  12. What are the major differences between the conventions and interests of Victorian poetry and those of modern poetry of the early 20th century?
  13. Discuss the topic of oppression in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from the point of view of authorship. Why did the Bronte sisters initially published under gender-ambiguous pseudonyms (the Bells)? To what extent did initial reviewers of the novel struggle with the question of gender in their criticisms of the novel?
  14. Discuss the role of the law and legal evidence in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and/or Lady Audley’s Secret. How do legal questions about marriage, for example, play a role in narrative structure or character development?
  15. Examine Victorian notions of masculinity, and especially the concept of the Byronic Hero, in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Lady Audley’s Secret. Why do both novels seem to abandon (or have they?) the conventional notion of the Byronic hero? Are Gilbert and Robert one and the same, or are they different in their relationship to conventional notions of Victorian masculinity?
  16. Through references to a selection of texts from our course reading list, discuss Victorian concepts of character. Do characters drive action and plot, and generally control the events around them? Or, are they simply manipulated figures in larger Victorian concerns about the social world? Discuss in relation to the ways in which individuality is represented in Victorian literature.
  17. Discuss the cultural, social, and economic roles of women writers in the Victorian period. What impact does the traditional of Victorian women’s writing have on current ways in which we study writing be women today? Would modern/postmodern writing by women be the same without the Bronte sisters, for example? In what ways are the Brontes and Mary Elizabeth Braddon pioneers in their respective genres? Does the sensational style of Braddon’s novel still have an impact on women’s writing today? To what extent did Victorian women writers influence the politics of women’s or universal suffrage? Do these women, their voices, their characters, or their stories really matter?
  18. Discuss the notion of “happy endings” in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and/or Lady Audley’s Secret. How do we understand the nature of the happy ending in these novels? Do Bronte and/or Braddon ask us to consider these endings as suspicious or ironic? Are they truly happy endings for the women in these novels? Discuss in relation to Victorian expectations about narrative and social norms relating to gender.
  19. Discuss the ways in which Victorian writers, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, appropriate the voices of children, the lower classes, or other races/ethnicities in their literature. Though such literary intentions may seem noble in their insistence that readers hear the voices of marginalized individuals, to what extent is such an appropriation problematic? To what extent do literary appropriations of marginalized voices further suppress the actual voices of children, women, the lower classes, or representatives of other races/ethnicities?
  20. Throughout the course, we’ve discussed Victorian representations of women and women’s experiences, but how might we interrogate Victorian representations of masculinity? Develop this essay topic through a comparison/contrast of such texts as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Lady Audley’s Secret, and In Memoriam. To what extent might such Victorian stereotypes as the Byronic hero, the dandy, and the rake challenge or question the period’s ideals regarding masculinity?

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