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Literature and Culture of 19th Century Britain: Literary Life Stages

The related desires to create life and defy aging run deep throughout the 19th century in Britain. From Frankenstein at the start of the century to The Picture of Dorian Gray at the end, the idea of attaining scientific, artistic, and metaphysical control of life is evident in the literature of the period as well as contemporaneous art, inventions, and advertisements. The investigation of Literary Life Stages that this course undertakes considers the literary life of this fantasy of control as it advances throughout the century; it seeks a sophisticated understanding of the maturation of a concept rigorously engaged with by multiple writers over the course of the century. At the same time, the texts we examine grapple with life stages in other ways as well, such as exploring the transactions between young and old and assessing what is exchanged in one subject’s crossing over that threshold. Changing social conditions also affect the way life stages—of a person or a literary work—are experienced. These additional considerations round out our investigation of the life stages of the literary theme of the striving to play god and seize control over the mechanisms of creating, manipulating, and sustaining life; ultimately, over life and death themselves.

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