Student-Developed Final Essay Topics

In class this week, students developed potential final research paper topics. These are topics that any student still in need of one could adopt for their final papers. I collected their topics and revised them slightly. Here’s the list they came up. I’m thoroughly impressed because not only are these excellent questions, but they also provide an insightful snapshot of the topics we’ve covered in the course this semester.

In Richard Marsh’s The Beetle, various forms of influence and control emerge, for example in the Beetle’s control of Holt’s body, Lindon senior’s control over his daughter, and the control that Sydney has over the Beetle. How are these forms of control represented? To what extent do characters in the novel either resist or frustrate control and influence from external sources? What indicators allow some characters to resist controlling influences while others remain incapable of resistance?

Throughout the course, the theme of morality has been quite prominent, especially in the novels. Rather than having black/white representations of good and evil, as we might typically expect given conventional notions of Victorianism, many of the characters in the novels demonstrate complex understandings of personal motivation. Lady Audley, for example, does terrible things, but is she not a product of her society? Dorian Gray tries to be good by the end of Wilde’s novel, but even this attempt at morality is governed by self-interest rather than altruism for the welfare of others. How do these novels explore the complexities of Victorian thought about morality and self-interest?

How does the literature of this time period represent complications in railway culture and advancements in communicative technologies as conflicting with individual experiences of time and temporality? Discuss through particular reference to Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret and the novel’s thematic assumption of the intersections of personal habits/rhythms and the uniform, standardized demands of “railway” time.

How does the literature of this time period highlight difficulties and developments regarding mental health? The era experienced a surge in scientific thought about mental health, but the prevalence of asylums and madhouses seems to indicate a certain discomfort with how mental illness was perceived. Does the period’s literature blur the lines between sanity and insanity, and if so, for what literary or aesthetic reason?

How does modernization impact the literary representation of character psychology in the literature we have read this semester? To what degree do characters and speakers in the literature embrace or rebel against modern scientific and social advancements? Must the demands of modernization come at the expense of the individual psyche? Discuss in relation to the sense that the decay in individual morality in the literature of the period is equivalent to broader claims about decaying or degenerate morality in social in general. How does the commodification of the soul/body factor into such notions of decay?

Oscar Wilde’s two manuscript editions of The Picture of Dorian Gray are starkly different. The first edition seems thoroughly aesthete in its themes, while the second edition introduces the possibility of moral redemption for Dorian. How do the two editions’ respective characterizations of Dorian compare/contrast? To what extent do they offer to radical versions of Dorian’s character?

Both Dorian Gray and The Beetle introduce thematic interest in androgyny. In what ways do these novels villainize or make sinister the notion of femininity or seemingly effeminate behaviors and mannerisms?

What aspects of personal and aesthetic beauty emerge in literary representations of painted portraits?

The body’s autonomy/agency is a common theme in many of the works we have read this semester. How do Lady Audley’s actions, Dorian’s bodily perversions, and the Beetle’s seemingly hypnotic possession/control of bodies relate to later Victorian thought about the body and bodily representation?

How do the novels in the course this semester reflect a cultural history of Victorian psychology? Discuss in relation to such topics as criminality and hereditary madness, social and sexual perversion and degeneracy, and/or the intellectual labors of the mad scientist.

Compare Robert Audley from Lady Audley’s Secret to Sydney Atherton from The Beetle as investigators. What thematic role does detective or investigatory work play in their respective narratives?

Compare the weaponization of beauty and its effects in both Lady Audley’s Secret and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Compare the representation and power of art in Lady Audley’s Secret and The Picture of Dorian Gray, specifically the portraits of the titular characters, and the effects of viewing the art by both the subjects and unassociated viewers.

To what extent is The Beetle an allegory for British Imperialism? Did the English fear reprisal from their colonial subjects? How does the novel reflect the anxieties of late Victorian society in regards to its colonial subjects? What sort of mind set do the characters have of colonial affairs beyond the British Isles?

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray explores how the infatuation of beauty can only be successful when the ugliness of a personality remains in a state of internal entrapment, resulting in the decay of one’s internal appearance. Wilde suggests Dorian’s changing portrait has not been altered, but rather Dorian’s sense of self is corrupt and it is only him who can distinguish the horror underneath the beauty. Discuss.

Given that the Victorian poets Christina Rossetti and her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti possess widely differing styles in their works, and given that the two poets are frequently compared with each other due to their familial and artistic relationship, how do their works compare and contrast in style, form, and content (especially regarding their notions about women)?

How does the critical notion of the homosocial triangle function in Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret? To what extent does Robert Audley’s affection for his friend George become triangulated through his relationship with George’s sister Clara?

Develop an essay about the intersections of visuality and vocality in the literature we have looked at this semester. How do the visual and the audible introduce competing/contrasting affective responses to modernity?

Feminist interpretations of Lady Audley’s control and self-creation of her own position in the world suggest that she adopts a concept of power typically reserved for men in the Victorian period. How do other texts in the course align with this sense of a shift in gender roles and power relations?

Most of the texts we have read this semester have hinted at the presence of racial/caste inequality (for example, the anti-Semitic representations of Jewishness in Dorian Gray, the odd whiteness of Phoebe Marks in Lady Audley). How does literary criticism account for such troubling representations of racial difference? How do cultural or historical interpretations interpret such representations?

In Dorian Gray, there are reversals of traditional notions and concepts of realism and reality. While classically the soul lives forever and the body dies out, Dorian Gray reverses this assumption by immortalizing the body and rendering the soul ephemeral and mutable. What is the specific effect of this reversal within Dorian’s psychological and phenomenological experiences of the world? How does this reversal of body and soul reflect other thematic concerns in the novel? How does Basil represent the non-reversed?

In “Wireless,” the poet Keats is seemingly channeled accidentally, even though he is long dead. The medium of Keat’s poetry – Shaynor – not only reproduces Keats’ poem, but also introduces significant editions and revisions. To what extent does this introduction of a revisionist summoning of Keats’ poetry thematically explore the idea of thoughts/data/content circulating independently of a thinking subject?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s