ENGL 456

19th-Century British Novel (Novel Evidence: 19th-Century British Fiction and the Law) :: Spring 2015

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12.30 – 1.45 p.m., O’Connell 254

Abbreviated calendar here with links to assignments and readings
Complete syllabus here with all class policies and calendar
NB: In case of discrepancies between the online calendar and the syllabus as regards due dates, etc., the online calendar is correct.

Waiting for the Verdict 1857 by Abraham Solomon 1824-1862
Abraham Solomon, Waiting for the Verdict (1857), Tate Museum

What is the relationship between fiction and the law, in the British 19th century? As the 18th century turned, major developments occurred in a few keys areas in which both literature and the law were intimately invested, including ideas of what counts as “evidence”; notions of how agents of the law are to perform their task; who was permitted to offer evidence (to serve as a witness); more basic theories of what we can know at all, in order to come to a judgment about other people and their alleged actions; and understandings of the relationship between an individual’s rights and society.

While our primary focus will be on ideas of evidence as they relate to fictionalizations of legal practices and to fiction in general, this course explores all the issues mentioned above through reading, discussion, writing, and projects about key 19th-century essays, major novels and short stories of the period (including the first and most famous of British detectives), and a few recent critical and theoretical evaluations of the relationship between literature and the law. In addition, later adaptations of a number of these texts, including shows like Sherlock and the various film renditions of Frankenstein, will permit us to ask how a shift in the medium (i.e., from prose fiction to cinema or television series) affects the portrayal of evidence, human rights, the law in general, etc.

Illustration from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)

Grade Breakdown


Research Project:

  • Annotated bibliography :: 150 points :: 15%
  • Research paper :: 250 points :: 25%

Course readings

All of the course books are available at the campus bookstore, but feel free to buy them used if you can save a few bucks. Please have the edition listed, so that you can fully participate in and follow class lectures and discussion.

Required texts:

  1. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Oxford) ISBN: 9780199537167
  2. Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (Oxford) ISBN: 9780199535576
  3. Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (Oxford) ISBN: 9780199536726
  4. Anthony Trollope, Phineas Redux (Oxford) ISBN: 9780199583485
  5. Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (Oxford) ISBN: 9780199554775

Strongly recommended:

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition ISBN: 1603290249


One thought on “ENGL 456”

  1. I had an interesting thought tying in to our discussion on the destruction of the female monster. It was mentioned that Frankenstein was like God, and then there was Frankenstein’s perceived struggle between his duty to society/humanity, and his duty to his creation. From a legal perspective, though, could God be held responsible for the crimes of men? In other words, if Frankenstein does right by his Monster, and creates the female, could he not then wash his hands of them, and they not be held responsible for their own actions? The Monster is obviously intelligent and not devoid of a knowledge of morality. He has demonstrated his capacity for goodness. Can it really be said then that any suffering he may cause humanity is Frankenstein’s fault? Since the Monster has agency, can his actions not be unbound from Frankenstein’s conscience?


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Associate Professor of Literature :: Yale-NUS College

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