ENGL 221 A1: Reading Class and Ideology

P. Sinnema

How do people come to understand themselves as “belonging” to a particular class? Does class as an identifying feature interconnect with other potential categories of identification such as religion, gender, and race? What are the etymological and social origins of “class”? Is there such a thing as a truly dominant class at any given historical moment? And how does class get taken up in literary works—as a subject or theme, but also as a powerful imaginative force?

This course attempts to answer such questions by examining a few novels and poems of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the critical lens provided by twentieth-century writings on class and the related concept of ideology. Whereas the former constitute a fascinating series of texts that consciously grapple with the vexed issues of “station,” conflict, privilege, and suffering at a time when class itself appeared to be a primary determiner of individual fate and possibility, the latter suggest ways for reading fiction (and the act of writing) historically, so that we can better understand the ways in which fiction itself is the product of class and, in turn, contributes to the production and solidification of class relations.