Romantics and Victorians: Literature 1789-1870

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

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, Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, Tennyson, and 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 and 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 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 major novelists (Dickens and George Eliot) and another on major poets (Tennyson and 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 seen examination paper. The exam paper will be released on Blackboard 48 hours before the exam is due to take place. 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, Austen, Dickens,  Eliot, Tennyson or Rossetti.

Reading list

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

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

Further reading information will be supplied on Blackboard.

Lectures - check Blackboard for dates, times and venue.

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