COOL CLASSES: “Pre-Raphaelites, Aesthetes and Decadents: Gender and Sexuality in the 19th Century”

This English course explores 19th-century novels that examine the aesthetic, the ethical, the sociopolitical, and the affective as categories of interest and productive cultural investment.

Class name: Pre-Raphaelites, Aesthetes and Decadents: Gender and Sexuality in the 19th Century
Taught by: Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Program Debora Sherman


Here’s what Sherman has to say about her course:

This course explores particular aesthetic movements in the latter part of the 19th century that, in their resistance to late Victorian culture, seem as well to be on the cusp of modernity. Students gain a history of the period, particularly of issues in gender and sexuality, as well as an opportunity to practice intertextual and interdisciplinary work in art and literature. The course counts both towards the concentration in gender and sexuality studies and the minor in visual studies.

As a graduate student at Brown University, I took a course called “Pre-Raphaelites, Aesthetes and Decadents” from a noted Ruskin scholar, George Landow. So in part, teaching the course allows me to remember my own enthusiasms as a student. When I began to prepare a version to teach at Haverford, and influenced by work in the period around gender and sexuality, and by a number of theses on Oscar Wilde which I’d advised over the years—such as Killian Kröll’s senior essay on queer space in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray—I  expanded the literature in the course to include a significant investment in the American novelist and expatriate Henry James and the paradigmatic aesthete Oscar Wilde. I also added work that elicits arguments about the “eroticized child” as in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Lewis Carroll’s controversial photographs of young girls.

I hope that students will find a robust discussion of these issues in the course, and will discover in themselves an increased facility for interarts comparisons between painting, photography and literature.


See what other courses the Department of English is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.