In “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” Matthew Arnold argues that the
“business” of criticism, the practice of reading, thinking, and writing about literature,
is “simply to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and … to create
a current of true and fresh ideas.” This course will challenge you, as a critical reader, to address some of the texts
that have been considered “the best that is known and thought” and to ask if that
designation is true, hopefully with the end of creating “true and fresh ideas.” We will ask if we even know what is “the best?” If so, what is it? Is it found in British literature from the past two hundred years?
Ultimately, as we move closer to our contemporary world, we will begin to see why
Asian Dub Foundation sings about the “Real Great Britain” this way:
Union Jack and Union Jill
Back up and down the same old hill…
Blairful of Thatcher
Stuck on the 45
The suits have changed
But the old ties survive
New Britannia Cool
Who are you trying to fool?
We will try to see, with critics and writers like Matthew Arnold, the best and, with
social critics and artists like Asian Dub Foundation, the worst of British culture
while asking if these reflect our own best and worst ideas and circumstances.
This survey course will address British literature from the Romantics to the Postmoderns,
roughly 1750 to 2000. We will attempt to understand two hundred years of British literature, culture, and
history as we address themes of nation and empire, women’s rights, scientific and
economic revolutions, aesthetic beauty, war, religion, race, language, and definitions
of the individual.