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EN927 The Condition of England: Perceptions in Victorian Literature

Module tutor: Dr Emma Francis

Autumn Term 2015, Tuesdays 4-6pm, room tba


The Victorian period was one of dynamic change and conflict. Over ten weeks, we examine a range of texts which intervene in important ways into the cultural, social and political reconfigurations which energized the period. Issues we will discuss include the development of ‘racial’ thinking - the notion that ‘race’ is a significant category of difference - during the nineteenth century; the challenges and perceived threats posed by the working classes’ demands for the extension of democracy and civil inclusion; and the increasing dominance of the so-called ‘woman question’ within all arenas of social and political debate. The Victorians did not make the rigid disciplinary demarcations within their intellectual culture that we make - between, for example, ‘cultural’ and ‘scientific’ debates. So we read ‘literary’ texts alongside some of the most important texts of other kinds - works of social theory, natural history, economics - written in the period which influenced the structure, axioms and often the very language of the literature in crucial ways.

The following is a list of texts we will discuss in seminar. However, they by no means constitute ‘the course’. You are encouraged to read widely within the texts of the period and to work with me to develop your particular research interests through wider reading and relevant critical sources as the course evolves.

1. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights 

2. Alfred Tennyson, Maud: A Monodrama 

3. Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (Penguin) Chs 1-4

4. Charles Dickens, Hard Times (Penguin)

5.Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (OUP)

6. Charlotte Brontë, Villette (Penguin)

7. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (Penguin), Chs 1,2,3,4,7,8,10; The Descent of Man (Penguin) Chs 7,19,20

8. Amy Levy, Reuben Sachs (Broadview)

9. Olive Schreiner, The Story of An African Farm (OUP)

10. Bram Stoker, Dracula (OUP)


Some indicative critical material, which engages with some of the key module debates is listed below. It is essential that each student works individually with the module tutor to develop a programme of critical reading based on your evolving interests in particular aspects of the module.

Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Poetry: Poetry Poetics and Politics (London: Routledge, 1993)

Victorian Glassworlds (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Ruth Brandon, The New Women and the Old Men: Love Sex and the Woman Question (London: Macmillan (Papermac), 2000)

Carolyn Burdett, Olice Schreiner and the Progress of Feminism: Evolution, Gernder, Empire (Basingstoke: Palgrave,

Pamela K. Gilbert, Disease, Desire, and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Elizabeth K. Helsinger, Robin L. Sheets and William Veeder, eds., The Woman Question: Society and literature in Britain and America 1837-1883, (Manchester University Press, 1983)

Naomi Hethington and Nadia Valman (eds) Amy Levy: Critical Essays (Athens: Ohio Unikversity Press, 2010)

Cora Kaplan, Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007)

Seth Koven, Slumming (Princeton University Press, 2006)

Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian Literature (Princeton University Press, 2009)

Emma Mason and Mark Knight, Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Catherine Maxwell, Second Sight: The Visionary imagination in Late Victorian Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

Jon Mee, The Cambridge Introduction to Charles Dickens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Marianne Thormahlen (ed) The Brontes in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Nadia Valman, The Jewess in Nineteenth Century British Literary Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)