ENGL 364 (3 cr): Nineteenth Century Studies: Monsters! Murderers!: Secrets and Hidden Lives in Novels of the Victorian Period


Course Description

This course offers the student the opportunity to encounter and engage with the works of some of the most successful writers of the Victorian period, and to be exposed to some of that period’s central concerns: gender, class, religion and art. These subjects were at the centre of heated tension, so that much of the discourse about them – by politicians, clerics, scientists, novelists and essayists, among others – takes the form of oppositions and power struggles. These basic concerns can be then connected to larger issues of empire, industrialism, individualism, private and public domains, domesticity, religious doubt, decadence, and aestheticism, as seen in a variety of genres. ENGL 364 does not aim to provide a survey of Victorian novels; rather, it focuses on a few select novels to allow for a more in-depth exploration of key ideas and central concerns of the period, as expressed in the form of the novel. The aim of this course is to increase students’ knowledge about Victorian novels and novelists within the context of Victorian culture, and from various critical perspectives. For the purposes of this course, the Victorian period stretches from approximately 1837 (the year of Queen Victoria’s accession) to the last decade of the nineteenth-century, rather than to the beginning of the twentieth-century (1901), when Queen Victoria died.


The course’s prerequisites are: 6 credits of First-Year English, or the 18-credit Arts One Program, or the 6-credit ASTU 100A in CAP, or 3 credits of First-Year English plus one of ASTU 100B or ASTU 150 and third-year standing.

Intended Audience

This 13-week course is designed for senior undergraduates in their third or fourth year of university, and is particularly relevant for students enrolled in the English major and honours programs, as well as for students majoring in history. It is also relevant as an elective for senior students in other programs and faculties, as it provides an interdisciplinary approach to the texts. It is assumed that students will have some grounding in close reading and literary analysis, for which they would have been prepared by the prerequisites for this course. While familiarity with the Victorian period would be an asset, it is not wholly necessary, as this course will provide strong contextual support in its secondary readings.

Course Objectives/Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • recognize major patterns and connections in thematic concerns in the Victorian novel and some of the most prominent novel genres of the period
  • articulate the defining characteristics of some of the most prominent novelists of the period
  • identify and discuss the influences of cultural, historical and literary movements in the development of the Victorian novel
  • appreciate that all creative work is done within layers of contexts – creative, socio-political, historical, etc.
  • refine their own critical thinking skills and to apply a variety of critical approaches through a combination of exercises that allow them to practice scholarly research and literary analysis
  • gain confidence in their research and analytical skills by aiming to meet the requirements of today’s scholarly expectations for university graduates
  • practise their essay writing skills by composing 2 literary analysis essays, and move forward with their skills by using the guidance of instructor feedback
  • engage actively in collaborative learning, creating their own scholarly community within the course’s cohort by generating and responding to prompts by the instructor and the students
  • embrace the responsibility for their own learning

Course Overview

This course is structured around 6 modules. The introductory module provides foundational ideas and background, while the 5 following modules focus on individual novels. You will be reading 5 core fictional works and supporting your understanding of this material with further reading of contextual and historical documents and of scholarly essays. Jane Eyre and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will represent gothic fiction, including the sub-genres of epistolary and sensation fiction; Hard Times will represent the ‘condition of England’/industrial novel; Tess of the d’Urbervilles will represent the pastoral and ‘fallen woman’ novel; and The Picture of Dorian Gray will represent the aesthetic novel. Each novel’s thematic concerns and genre are closely connected with the concerns of at least one other novel in the course. Each novel will be read not only in the context of the socio-political and critical concerns of its own period, but also of modern scholarly approaches to it. As you work through each module, you will be responding to instructor and student-generated prompts by providing weekly online posts. In Week 6 of the course, you will be submitting an essay that is a response to a scholarly article; your term paper will be due at the end of term, at the beginning of Week 13.

Course Requirements

ENGL 364 contains the following course work:

Two graded essays responding to scholarly research and arguments
One research proposal
Weekly posts responding to instructor and/or student-generated prompts which create discussion forums
Final Examination


Participation: 10%
Response to Scholarly Article: 25%
Term Paper: 35%
Final Examination: 30%

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