The Dark Side of Progress: London and other Savage Outposts

In the 19th century, England perceived itself as the height of progressive civilization.  London, the seat of its government and the center of an empire stretching across the globe, was hailed as the epitome of culture and refinement.

In this class, though, we’ll discover a radically different story.  Victorian writers and readers could not shake the suspicion that this patriotic myth hid a scandalous truth.  Wherever they looked, they seemed to find more “shameful testimon[ies],” as Dickens wrote, of “how civilization and barbarism walked this boastful island together.”  Taking our cue from this skeptical reappraisal, we will investigate the dark side of Victorian England, focusing especially on a London revisioned as the site of barbaric crime, degenerate sexuality, and gothic monstrosity.  We will follow Holmes and Watson into lurid opium dens; accompany Dorian Gray on visits to gentleman’s clubs, seedy theaters, and riverside dives; and trace the routes of gothic villains such as Mr. Hyde as they search for prey on the metropolitan streets.

Our explorations of the dark side of Victorian England will take us outside the classroom and into the settings of these nightmares.  After reading journalistic accounts of Jack the Ripper, we will tour the East End district where he committed his horrific murders.  Our analysis of Heart of Darkness will come to life as we delve into archives recording the facts of imperial conquest and exploration.  To better understand Wuthering Heights, we will walk the Yorkshire moors and village streets where Emily Brontë locates the most startling account of savage passion ever written.  On the same trip we will visit Edinburgh, whose brooding architecture and dark streets mapped themselves onto the imagination of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Course details

  • ENG 498/598 (6 semester hours)
  • LondonAWAY! experience: Edinburgh for 4 nights
  • Prerequisite: Consent of Instructor

Meet the Instructor

Dr. Tim Carens









Dr. Tim Carens
College of Charleston

Dr. Tim Carens is Professor of English, Director of the M.A. program,
and Director of British Studies at the College of Charleston.  He
spent the year after college living in London and has returned on
several research trips with students in the past decade.  This summer
will be the first time he has taught in London, and he is very much
looking forward to it!  In his research and teaching Dr. Carens
focuses on Victorian literature and culture.  He is the author of
Outlandish English Subjects in the Victorian Domestic Novel and has
published essays on Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Wilkie Collins,
Oscar Wilde, and other Victorian writers.  He teaches courses on Jane
Austen and Gothic literature as well as surveys of the Victorian novel
and British poetry. He lives in Mt. Pleasant SC with his wife, two
teenage kids, one springer spaniel, and several chickens.