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EN2E2/EN3E2 English Literature and Feminisms, 1790-1899


Dr Emma Francis


This module explores aspects of the political and intellectual provenance of a range of 19th century feminisms and their impact upon British literary culture in the period. We move from a starting point of the feminisms produced by the battle between conservative and radical political thought at the turn of the 19th century through the feminisms of the mid-century, which looked to liberalism and related positions to legitimate their arguments, to the diversification of feminist debates through the lenses of Darwinism, socialism, new discourses about sexuality and discussions around the significance of the city at the end of the 19th century. The module constructs a dialogue between 19th century literary texts and 19th century feminist and anti-feminist discourses, and the way in which these relationships have been understood in the late 20th and 21st centuries by historians, historiographers and literary critics.


  • Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary feminisms and their literatures, 1790-1830
  • Women’s poetry and woman’s mission: the woman writer’s ‘proper sphere’, 1802-65
  • Liberalism, Unitarianism and feminism: the limits of the novel, 1840-69
  • Sensation, socialism, science and sexual deviance, 1862-89
  • The ‘New Woman’, 1890-99


Those taking the module in their intermediate year (level 5) will write 2x 3,500 word essays, one engaged with material of term 1 and the other engaged with material from term 2 from two lists of supplied questions. Those taking the module in their final year (level 6) will write 2x 4,500 word essays on questions they will devise themselves in consultation with me. Please ensure that you preserve an email trail proving that I have approved the wording of your self-devised question.

Essay 2: deadline Tuesday Term 3, Week 3 (9th May 2023)

EN3E2 - Finalists

If you are taking this module in your final year you should develop a question based on the work of terms 1 and/or 2. Please retain an email trail with me whereby I have signed off on the wording of your question. Your essay should be 4,500 words in length. You should refer to AT LEAST two set texts.

EN2E2 - Intermediates

If you are taking this module in your second/intermediate year you should write an essay on ONE of the questions supplied below. You may NOT alter the wording of a question. Your essay should be 3,500 words in length. You should refer to AT LEAST two set texts.

1. Discuss the representation of sisters AND/OR sisterhood in the period 1840-1899.

2. Discuss the use of the supernatural AND/OR gothic in writing engaging with 'the woman question' in the period 1840-1899.

3. Why did writers addressing 'the woman question' turn to Darwinian categories in the period after 1859? How successful are their attempts to harness Darwin to the cause of feminism?

4. How useful is the concept of the 'separate spheres' in understanding the representation of women's role and status in texts of the period after 1840.

5. Discuss the analysis of marriage as an economic system in the period after 1840.

6. Discuss the representation of the industrial working class AND/OR the conditions of factory labour in the period after 1840.

7. How useful was the the novel as a form in the exploration of women's experiences and aspirations in the period after 1840?

8. Compare and contrast two or more texts that explore unconventional or transgressive gender identities AND/OR sexual desires.

9. Was the figure of the 'New Woman' useful or obstructive to the development of feminist thinking in the last two decades of the 19th century.

From the 2023-24 session the assessment pattern changes. For both finalists and intermediates the second essay is replaced by a closed examination paper of 2 hours duration to be taken in the summer term.

Critical sources

Below is a sample of useful critical texts that speak to significant aspects of the module (all available in e-source via the Library). As you develop your essays you should consult me for other recommendations of critical sources tailored to your particular project.

Anita Levy, Other Women: The Writing of Class, Race, and Gender, 1832-1898. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014
Deborah Epstein Nord, Walking the Victorian Streets: Women, Representation, and the City. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995
Deborah Weiss, The female philosopher and her afterlives: Mary Wollstonecraft, the British novel, and the transformations of feminism, 1796-1811. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017
Eileen Hunt Botting, Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Women's Human Rights. Yale University Press, 2016.
Joseph Morrissey, Women's domestic activity in the Romantic-period novel, 1770-1820: dangerous occupations. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018
Lyn Pykett, The 'Improper' Feminine:The Women's Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing. Routledge, 1992
Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar,The madwoman in the attic: the woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination. Yale Nota Bene, 2000.
Susan Fraiman, Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development.New York: Columbia University Press, 1993
The Cambridge companion to nineteenth-century thought, edited by Gregory Claeys. Cambridge University Press, 2019
The Cambridge companion to Victorian women's writing, edited by Linda H. Peterson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
The Cambridge history of nineteenth-century political thought, edited by Gareth Stedman Jones and Gregory Claeys. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
The Oxford handbook of Victorian literary culture, edited by Juliet John. Oxford University Press, 2016
Victorian women writers and the woman question, edited by Nicola Diane Thompson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by Claudia L. Johnson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Anne Mellor, Romanticism and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011
The History of British Women’s Writing, 1830-1880, edited by Lucy Hartley. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018
Carmen Casaliggi, ‘Domestic Cosmopolitanism in Germaine de Stael’s Coppet and in Corinne, or Italy’ Women’s Writing Volume 27, Number 1, February 2020
Robert Castillo, The Empire of Stereoptypes: Germaine de Stael and the Idea of Italy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Cora Kaplan, Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.


    The following texts should be acquired, preferably in the recommended editions. A few additional set texts - 5 poems and 1 essay - are supplied in electronic form via the links on the Syllabus tab, which contains the running order and plan for each section of the module.

    • Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility [1811] (ed. Ros Ballaster, Penguin, 2003)
    • Grant Allen, The Woman Who Did [1895] (ed. Nicholas Ruddick, Broadview: 2004)
    • Charlotte Brontë, Villette [1853] (ed. Helen Cooper, Penguin: 2002)
    • Rhoda Broughton, Cometh Up As A Flower [1867] (ed. Pamela Gilbert, Broadview: 2010)
    • Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South [1855] (ed. Patricia Ingram, Penguin: 1996)
    • George Gissing, The Odd Women [1893] (ed. Patricia Ingram, OUP: 2000)
    • Margaret Harkness A City Girl [1887] (ed. Deborah Mutch, Victorian Secrets: 2015)
    • Amy Levy, Reuben Sachs [1888] (ed. Susan Bernstein, Broadview: 2006)
    • Hannah More, Coelebs in Search of a Wife [1809] (Broadview: 2003)
    • John Stuart Mill, ‘On the Subjection of Women’ [1869] (Broadview: 2000)
    • Christina Rossetti, 'Goblin Market' [1862] any modern edition
    • Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm [1883] (ed. Joseph Bristow, OUP: 2008)
    • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus [1818] (ed. Maurice Hindle, Penguin: 2008)
    • Germaine de Stael, Corinne, Or Italy [1802] (ed. Sylvia Raphael, OUP:2008)
    • Bram Stoker, Dracula [1897] (ed. Roger Luckhurst, OUP: 2011)
    • Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman [1792] and Maria or the Wrongs of Woman [1798] (ed. Anne K. Mellor, Longman Cultural Editions: 2006)