Romantics and Victorians: Literature 1789-1870

Course details || Module aims || Content || Learning and teaching || Learning outcomes || Assessment || Reading list || Lectures

Course details

Module aims

The over-arching aim of this module is to consider in detail two interlocking literary movements which span the period 1789 to 1870, Romanticism followed by the Victorian period. While the course is structured around the work of twelve representative writers (Blake, Wollstonecraft, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Jane Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, Tennyson, and Christina Rossetti), the module is designed to encourage advanced study of major literary texts and to offer ways of contextualising them historically and critically. 

Whilst the novel is well represented on this module, the emphasis on poetry, particularly the poetry of the Romantic movement, will raise the quality of your attention to this important genre. 

Lectures and seminars will provide opportunities for considering additional authors and texts.


The first half of the module, on the Romantic movement, will introduce selected work by:

  • Blake;
  • Wollstonecraft;
  • Wordsworth;
  • Coleridge;
  • Shelley;
  • Keats.

The lectures and seminars will consider the status of these poets and ways of reading their texts, and will offer access to an understanding of Romanticism and a range of recent critical writing on the period. Further lectures will consider works by Byron and Jane Austen, and issues relating to Romanticism in general.

The second half of the course, on Victorian writing to 1870, will comprise a group of lectures and seminars on the major novelists and poets:

  • Dickens;
  • George Eliot;
  • Tennyson;
  • Christina Rossetti.

Among topics to be considered are the development of nineteenth-century realism, the relationship between the major novelists and the new mass audience for literature, the emergence of the professional woman writer, the legacy of the Romantics as manifested in Victorian poetry, and the ways in which religious doubt and residual religious faith used this legacy.

Within the context of the degree course as a whole this module will provide a means of understanding the nineteenth century as a period of revolutionary change, and will illuminate the relationship between the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement, and the transition from Romanticism to Victorianism, and from Victorianism to Modernism.

Learning and teaching

The teaching of the module is delivered through a series of lectures on individual authors and central critical and cultural topics which provide direction and contexts for students' individual study of texts, secondary criticism and background historical and theoretical sources.

Weekly seminars provide an opportunity for students to develop their critical analysis of authors and texts and to relate them to the larger contexts of literary and cultural history. As part of this module, each week two students will be asked to prepare a critical commentary on a literary extract and to give a five minute collaborative presentation based on this.  

Students will also be be expected to submit a timed practice essay by way of preparation for the examination.  The final date of submission for both the critical commentary and the practice essay will be determined by your course tutor.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to...

  • demonstrate detailed knowledge and critical understanding of a substantial range of literature;
  • discuss authors, texts and issues addressed by the module in a clear and concise manner, thereby demonstrating progression in communication and presentation skills, both oral and written
  • place the work of individual writers in relation to significant social, cultural and literary developments of the period; 
  • outline, analyse and assess the formal and thematic characteristics of the major literary genres (e.g. the ballad, the lyric, the ode, the epic, and the novel);
  • compare and contrast works by a range of authors from across the period, describing and accounting for continuities as well as differences;
  • demonstrate a familiarity with key works of criticism and with relevant critical approaches.


A three-hour examination paper. Students are required to answer two questions and must write on the work of at least four of the following authors: Blake, Wollstonecraft, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Jane Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, Tennyson or Christina Rossetti.

Reading list

Students should read the following over the summer prior to the module:

  • Wordsworth, The Prelude;
  • Tennyson, In Memoriam;
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch.

Particularly important or useful texts, housed in the short-loan collection in the library, are marked *. 

Useful critical books on Blake include the following:
D. Erdman, Blake: Prophet against Empire
D. Erdman and J. Grant, (ed.) Blake's Visionary Forms Dramatic
Michael Farber, The Poetry of William Blake
David Fuller, Blake's Heroic Argument
R. Gleckmer, The Piper and the Bard
Heather Glen, Vision and Disenchantment: Blake's 'Songs' and Wordsworth's 'Lyrical Ballads'
Edward Larissy, William Blake
Zachary Leader, Reading Blake's Songs
Jerome J. McGann, Towards a Literature of Knowledge
W.J.T. Mitchell, Blake's Composite Art
M. Nurmi, William Blake
M. Phillips, (ed.), Interpreting Blake

The suggested edition is Mary and The Wrongs of Woman (Oxford World's Classics, 2009), ed. Gary Kelly.  The Penguin and Norton editions are also reliable. Also worth consulting are Wollstonecraft's other writings such as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (either the Penguin or Norton editions are recommended), her Collected Letters or her Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The memoirs written by her husband, William Godwin, are a good starting point for understanding her biography, Memoirs of the author of A vindication of the rights of woman. For modern biographies, Claire Tomalin's The life and death of Mary Wollstonecraft is a good lively read, and Janet Todd's Mary Wollstonecraft: a revolutionary life also gives useful background and critical information.

Suggested critical reading:
Adriana Craiciun, Mary Wollstonecraft's A vindication of the rights of woman: a sourcebook
*Claudia L. Johnson,
The Cambridge companion to Mary Wollstonecraft
Gary Kelly, Revolutionary feminism: the mind and career of Mary Wollstonecraft
Barbara Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the feminist imagination

M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism
M.H. Abrams (ed.), Wordsworth: A collection of Critical Essays
Frances Austin, The Language of Wordsworth and Coleridge
Don H. Bialostosky, Wordsworth, Dialogics and the Practice of Criticism
C.C. Clarke, Romantic Paradox
Paul Hamilton, Wordsworth
Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth's Poetry 1787-1814
Geoffrey Hartman, The Unremarkable Wordsworth
Carol Jacobs, Romanticism, Writing and Sexual Difference: Essays on 'The Prelude'
Mary Jacobus, Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads 1798
Kenneth R. Johnston and Gene w. Ruoff (eds), The Age of William Wordsworth
Alan Liu, Wordsworth: The Sense of History
Herbert Lindenberger, On Wordsworth's Prelude
Graham McMaster (ed.), William Wordsworth
Stephen Maxfield Parrish, The Art of the Lyrical Ballads
Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years
David Simpson, Wordsworth's Historical Imagination
Jonathan Wordsworth, The Music of Humanity

There is a particularly good 'Critical Heritage' volume on Keats edited by G.M. Matthews; the introduction to this volume is especially recommended. there are also three very good biographies of Keats, all with extensive critical commentary: the most extensive is W.J. Bate, John Keats, very good for reference. Also highly recommended are Aileen Ward, John Keats, the Making of a Poet, and, most accessible and best for vacation reading, Robert Gittings, John Keats (available in Penguin).

There is a great deal of excellent criticism on Keats, of which the following titles are merely a sample:
John Jones, John Keats' Dream of Truth
*Marjorie Levinson, Keats's Life of Allegory
David Perkins, The Quest for Permanence
Christopher Ricks, Keats and Embarrassment
George Ridley, Keats's Craftmanship
*Nicholas Roe, (ed.), John Keats and the Culture of Dissent
Jack Stillinger, The Hoodwinking of Madeline
Helen Vendler, The Odes of John Keats
*Earl Wasserman, The Finer Tone
Susan Wolfson, (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Keats
Recommended critical reading includes the following:
Stephen Bygrave, Coleridge and the Self
Paul Hamilton, Coleridge's Poetics
*K. Everest, Coleridge's Secret Ministry
R. Holmes, Coleridge
H. House, Coleridge
G. Watson, Coleridge the Poet

Suggested further reading includes:
*Bernard Beatty and Vincent Newey (eds), Byron and the Limits of Fiction
R.F. Gleckner, Byron and the Ruins of Paradise
John D. Jump, Byron
Jerome J. McGann, Fiery Dust, The Beauty of Inflections, Romantic Ideology
Peter J. Manning, Byron and his Fictions, Reading Romantics
Philip Martin, Byron: A Poet before his Public
Jane Stabler, Byron: a Critical Reader

The standard edition is K.D. Everest, The Longman Annotated Shelley
Further reading should include:
*Miriam Allott, Essays on Shelley
Richard Cronin, Shelley's Poemic Thought
Christine Gallant, Shelley's Ambivalence
Jerrold Hogle, Shelley's Process: Radical Transference and the Development of his Major Works
Richard Holmes, Shelley: The Pursuit
Carol Jacobs, Uncontainable Romanticism: Shelley, Bronte, Kleist
William Keech, Shelley's Style
Michael O'Neill, The Human Mind's Imaginings
Earl Wasserman (ed.), Shelley: A Critical Reading
Andrew J. Welburn, Power and Self-Consciousness in the Poetry of Shelley

Students should buy the novels in the Penguin of Wordsworth Classic editions, but also worth consulting, forf their introduction by Mary Lascelles, are the Everyman editions. The standard scholarly biography is Park Honan, Jane Austen: Her Life; this has a really excellent guide to further reading on all aspects of Austen, pp.413-419. Recommended critical reading includes the following:
*Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (rev. ed. 1984)
Alistair M. Duckworth, The Improvement of the Estate
Barbara Hardy, A Reading of Jane Austen
Margaret Kirkham, Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction
Juliet McMaster, Jane Austen's Achievement
Juliet McMaster and Edward Copeland, (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
Adele Pinch, 'Strange Fits of Passion': Epistemologies of Emotion: Hume to Austen
L.V. Smith, Jane Austen and the Drama of Woman
Jane Spencer, The Rise of The Woman Novelist
Tony Tanner, Jane Austen
Jane Todd, (ed.), New Perspectives on Jane Austen
Mary Waldron, Jane Austen and the Fiction of her Time
A.H. Wright, Jane Austen: A Study in Structure

General Secondary Reading for the Romantics
M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the lamp (on Romantic critical theory)
M.H. Abrams (ed.), English Romantic Poets (use the second edition: good selection of essays on the major poets)
*Harold Bloom (ed.), Romanticism and Consciousness
David Bromwich (ed.), Romantic Critical Essays
Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful
*Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830
Aidan Day, Romanticism
Cynthia Chase (ed.), Romanticism
Stuart Curran (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism
K. Everest, English Romantic Poetry: an Introduction to the Historical Context and the Literary Scene
Frances Ferguson, Solitude and The Sublime
John O'Hayden (ed.), Romantic Bards and British Reviewers
William Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age
Mary Jacobus, Romanticism, Writing and Sexual Difference
Jon P. Klancher, The Making of English Reading Audiences, 1790-1832
Jerome J. McGann, The Beauty of Inflections
*Jerome J. McGann, The Romantic Ideology
Paul de Man, The Rhetoric of Romanticism
*Anne Mellor, Romanticism and Feminism
*Anne Mellor, Romanticism and Gender
Alexandra Mena, ~Women in Romanticism
Vincent Newey, Centring the Self
Lucy Newlyn, Reading, Writing and Romanticism: the Anxiety of Perception
*Michael O'Neill, Literature of the Romantic Period: A Bibliographical Guide
Jean Raimond and J.R. Watson (eds), A Handbook to English Romanticism
Tilottama Rajan, Dark Intepreter: The Discourse of Romanticism
Arden Reed (ed.), Romanticism and Language
Philip Shaw (ed.), Romantic Wars
Philip Shaw, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination
Philip Shaw, The Sublime
David Simpson (ed.), The Origins of Modern Critical Thought (on German aesthetic and literary criticism of the period. Includes generous selections from Kant and Schlegel)
Olivia Smith, The Politics of Language 1798-1848
E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime
Carl Woodring, Politics in English Romantic Poetry
Duncan Wu (ed.), Romanticism: A Critical Reader
Duncan Wu (ed.), A Companion to Romanticism
Useful periodicals include Studies in Romanticism and The Wordsworth Circle

George Eliot
The Penguin and World's Classics editions of the novels offer a high standard of annotation, and useful introduction. The Clarendon editions (OUP) present the most authoritative texts. The George Eliot Letters, ed. Gordon Haight, 9 volumes (1954-78), and Haight's biography (1968) are standard sources. Also important is T. Pinney, ed., The Essays of George Eliot (1963). These are also available in paperback, ed. A.S. Byatt (Penguin). Useful critical works include:
Rosemary Ashton, George Eliot
*Gillian Beer, George Eliot
Simon Dentith, George Eliot
Barbara Hardy (ed.), Critical Essays on George Eliot; The Novels of George Eliot; Particularities, Readings in George Eliot
Joseph McDonagh, George Eliot
William Myers, The Teaching of George Eliot
Pauline Nestor, George Eliot
John Rigwall (ed.), The Oxford Reader's Companion to George Eliot
Sally Shuttleworth, George Eliot and Nineteenth Century Science
Anne Smith (ed.), George Eliot: Centenary Essays

Penguin, Oxford and Everyman are the best editions for purchase. For biography, Peter Ackroyd's excellent Dickens (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990) is recommended, as is Fred Kaplan's more psychoanalytic approach in Dickens (John Hopkins UP, 1988). Dickens's correspondence has been reprinted in the monumental twelve volume Pilgrim edition, The Letters of Charles Dickens, (Clarendon, 1965-2002). For a wonderfully edited collection of Dickens's journalism see Michael Slater's four-volume Dent edition. To find out about recent critical work on Dickens, I highly recommentd the new Palgrave Advances in Charles Dickens Studies, ed. by John Bowen and Robert Pattern (Palgrave, 2006); and Dickens Refigures: Bodies, Desires and Other Histories, ed. by John Sehad (Manchester UP, 1996). The periodicals, Dickens Studies Annual, Dickens Quarterly and the Dickensian are also good starting places.
Malcolm Andrews, Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves
*John Bowen, Other Dickens
John Carey, The Violent Effigy
Steven Connor, Dickens
John Drew, Dickens the Journalist
Kate Flint, Dickens
John Glavin, After Dickens: Reading Adaptation and Performance
John Glavin (ed.), Dickens on Screen
Juliet John, Dickens's Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture
Sally Ledger, Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination
Grace Moore, Dickens and Empire: Discourses of Class Race and C9olonialism in the Works of Charles Dickens
Vincent Newey, The Scriptures of Charles Dickens
Lyn Pykett, Dickens
Andrew Sanders, Dickens and the Spirit of the Age
*Hilary Schor, Dickens and the Daughter of the House
Paul Schlicke (ed.), The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens
Gail Turley Houston, Consuming Fictions: Gender, Class and Hunger in Dicken's Novels
Catherine Waters, Dickens and the Politics of the Family

Students should buy In Memoriam, Maud and other poems (Everyman) but for reference the best edition is Christopher Ricks's in the Longman 'Annotated English Poets' Series (revised in three volumes, 1988). R.B. Martin's Tennyson: the Uniquet Heart is probably the best modern biography. The Letters have been edited by Lang and Shannon.

Useful critical works include;
J.H. Buckley, Tennyson, the Growth of a Poet
A Dwight Cutler, The Poetry of Tennyson
Eric Griffiths, The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry
J.D. Hunt, In Memoriam: a Casebook
James R. Kincaid, Tennyson's Major Poems
D.J. Palmer (ed.), Tennyson
*Christopher Ricks, Tennyson
*Alan Sinfield, Tennyson
Rebecca Stott (ed.), Tennyson: a Critical Reader (Longman)
Michael Thorn. Tennyson

Christina Rossetti
The Complete Poems have been edited by Rebecca W. Crump (1979-1990); paperback edition Penguin 2001. Students should buy the Penguin, or the Carcanet, Everyman, Faber or Wordsworth Classics Selection. Further reading includes:
Alison Chapman, Christina Rossetti and The Aesthetics of the Feminine
Antony Harrison, Christina Rossetti in Context
Kathleen Jones, Learning Not to be First: The Life of Christina Rossetti
David A. Kent (ed.), The Achievement of Christina Rossetti
Cora Kaplan, Sea Changes
*Angela Leighton, Victorian Women Poets: Writing against the Heart
*Jerome J. McGann, The Beauty of Inflections
Victorian Period: useful general works
*Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Poetry - Poetry, Poetics and Politics
Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots
Patricia Beer, Reader, I Married Him
Joseph Bristow (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry
Richard Cronin, et al, A Companion to Victorian Poetry (Blackwell)
Deirdre David, The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel
Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination
*Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic
Eric Griffiths, The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry
U.C. Knoepflmacher and G.B. Tennyson (eds), Nature and the Victorian Imagination
Frances O'Gorman (ed.), The Victorian Novel (Blackwell Guides to Criticism)
Joanne Shattock (ed.), Dickens and Other Victorians
Joanne Shattock, The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers
Linda M. Shires, Rewriting the Victorians: Theory, History and the Politics of Gender
Patricia Ingham, The Language of Gender and Class Transformation in the Victorian Novel

Useful periodicals include:

  • Victorian Studies;
  • Victorian Poetry;
  • Nineteenth Century Literature.

Lectures - (Check Blackboard for dates, times and venue)

Topic Lecturer
Introduction: Blake and Romanticism FJ
Wordsworth and Romanticism FJ 
Wollstonecraft and Revolutionary debates FJ
Wordsworth: The Two-Part Prelude (1798-99) PS 
 Coleridge I JN 
Coleridge II JN 
Romanticism: Themes and Perspectives FJ 
Shelley JN 
Keats PS 
Byron: Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Don Juan PS 
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Emma FJ 
Victorianism: Themes and Perspectives GD 
Tennyson: (1) Poems 1842 GM 
Tennyson (2) In Memoriam HF 
Christina Rossetti GM 
Dickens (1) Oliver Twist HF 
Dickens (2) Great Expectations HF 
George Eliot (1) The Mill on the Floss GM 
George Eliot (2) Middlemarch GM 
The End of the Victorians? GD 

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