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Module QXE-3110:
Neo-Victorian Fiction

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures, Linguistics and Media

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Karin Koehler

Overall aims and purpose

  1. To trace the development of neo-Victorianism in literature and film from the 1960s to the present.
  2. To explore how and why postmodern culture engages with the nineteenth-century past, with particular focus on gender and sexuality, empire and colonialism, and conceptions of morality.
  3. To develop a critical understanding of the relationship between fiction and history.
  4. To promote students’ understanding of intertextuality and literary experimentation.
  5. To develop and strengthen students’ skills in (a) close reading and literary analysis, (b) written and oral communication, (c) independent research, and (d) time management through planning and submission of coursework.

Course content

This module covers contemporary texts and films belonging to the increasingly popular genre of neo-Victorianism. It considers how writers and film makers engage with, adapt, and revise Victorian narrative conventions (such as the marriage plot, domestic realism, and omniscient narration), aesthetic modes (such as the Gothic, romance, or epistolary narrative), and cultural tropes (such as the ‘fallen woman’ or the haunted house) and examines how, in so doing, they interrogate and transform established understandings of nineteenth-century history and culture. The module pays particular attention to reinterpretations of Victorian concerns about gender roles and sexual relationships, industrialisation and economic exploitation, innovation and progress, colonialism and empire, and the relationship between private desires and public morality. However, it also examines how neo-Victorian literature and film can retrieve and bring into focus those aspects of the nineteenth-century past that remain buried underneath the surface of Victorian literature, i.e. female sexuality, queer desire and relationships, the voices and experiences of 'colonised subjects', and moral transgressions and criminality. The module will interrogate both how neo-Victorian texts and films can enhance our understanding of the Victorian past and why the Victorian past continues to matter. Texts and films studies will vary from year to year, but will typically include works by John Fowles, Jean Rhys, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Perry. Please note that, given the nature of the subject, students will be expected to read a number of long novels and are advised to plan their reading well in advance. While the module focuses on neo-Victorianism, students are advised to read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in preparation.

Assessment Criteria


Typically, work graded A- to A** (or 70 to 100) will show many of the following qualities: • Discusses ideas with confidence and precision • Demonstrates maturity and sophistication • Displays deep knowledge of the subject in question; the answer is totally relevant • Shows independent, analytical and clear thought • Gives evidence of substantial and relevant reading • Shows great accuracy in expression, displaying total mastery over all aspects of the language • Shows occasional signs of brilliance and originality of thought • In creative work: displays considerable originality • Command over medium; may have potential for publication/production


Typically, work graded D- to D+ (or 40 to 49) will show many of the following qualities: • Unsure and lacking in confidence when discussing ideas • Referring to the subject in question in a superficial manner • Making an effort to provide fairly balanced answers • Some points in the argument irrelevant to the topic • Little evidence of background reading • Some uncertainty over language and syntax

C- to C+

C- to C+

Typically, work graded C- to C+ (or 50 to 59) will show many of the following qualities: • Discusses ideas, but without much confidence • A respectable effort but not showing any unusual talent; a few flashes of originality here and there • Makes reference to the subject in question, but some important matters not mentioned • Fairly clear thought on most occasions, and the arguments relevant on the whole • Evidence of having read some works associated with the field in question • Quite accurate expression, though the points may sometimes be presented clumsily • Signs of conscientious work deserve a higher position within the class • In creative work: not having quite mastered the requirements of the medium • Evidence of planning in the answers, but a lack of coherence at times; undisciplined and unsure at times


Typically, work graded B- to B+ (or 60 to 69) will show many of the following qualities: • Discusses ideas adeptly • Most of the arguments about a specific field are well-aired • Displays knowledge of the subject in question; the answer is relevant • Shows analytical and clear thought • Gives evidence of relevant reading • Shows accuracy in expression with mastery over language. • A few minor errors here and there. • Signs of creative thought deserve a higher position within the class • In creative work: shows signs of originality, having understood the requirements of the medium • Plans of well-balanced and full answers, despite some gaps

Learning outcomes

  1. To select, digest and organise material and produce a consistent and coherent argument, presented in written or oral form, to a deadline.

  2. To analyse the thematic concerns, aesthetic strategies, and narrative techniques of a range of Neo-Victorian novels and films and present the results of such analysis in both written and oral form.

  3. To critically assess the relationship between literary representation and historic sources.

  4. To define Neo-Victorianism and demonstrate a critical understanding of the genre’s significance in contemporary culture

  5. To understand, evaluate, and implement a range of critical and theoretical approaches to Neo-Victorian Literature.

  6. To evaluate how contemporary literature and film engage with and respond to the nineteenth-century past, drawing on relevant historic knowledge.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Coursework essay (2,500 words)

Students will choose from a list of questions - or develop their own questions, in consultation with the module convenor - and write a critical essay of no more than 2,500 words.

COURSEWORK Neo-Victorian response + critical reflection

Students will choose from two options:

Option 1 - Creative: Students will choose from a selection of primary, nineteenth-century sources and produce a neo-Victorian response in any format of their choosing (creative, critical, literary, visual, journalistic, performance-based, etc). They will showcase their response in a five-minute presentation. The response will be accompanied by a reflective piece of 1,500 words, consisting of 1) a 500-word description and analysis of the source, which situates it in appropriate cultural and historic context 2) a 500-word reflection on how the student's response has built on the module content so far and/or how this exercise has contributed to their understanding of the module theme: neo-Victorianism 3) a 500-word explanation of the motivations and methodology behind the response.

Option 2 - Literature Review: Students will write a literature review of 2,500 words, surveying scholarship on Neo-Victorianism, which offers a working definiton of neo-Victorianism and which gives an overview of the field. This review should cover at least 5 sources. They will present the arguments of one key source in a 5-minute presentation to the rest of the group.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


Five film screenings of 2-3 hours in selected weeks.


One two-hour seminar peer week for eleven weeks.

Private study

159 hours of private study for reading texts, preparing seminars, and researching and writing summative and formative coursework.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Awareness of how different social and cultural contexts affect the nature of language and meaning (English Benchmark Statement 2.1; 2.2; 3.1.3; 3.1.7; 3.1.11; 3.2.8).
  • Command of a broad range of vocabulary and an appropriate critical terminology (English Benchmark Statement 3.1.9; 3.2.6).
  • Broad knowledge of literature and the distinctive characters of texts written in the principal literary genres of fiction, poetry and drama, and of other kinds of writing and communication (English Benchmark Statement 1.3.1; 3.1.1; 3.1.2).
  • Critical Skills in the close reading, description, reasoning and analysis and the ability to acquire substantial quantities of complex information of diverse kinds in a structured and systematic way involving the use of the distinctive interpretative skills of the subject (English Benchmark Statement 1.3.2; 1.3.6; 1.3.9; 2.1; 2.3; 3.2.1; 3.3.1; 3.3.3; 3.3.5; 3.3.8; 3.3.12; 3.3.13).
  • The ability to work with and in relationship to others through the presentation of ideas and information and the collective negotiation of solutions (English Benchmark Statement 1.3.9; 3.3.10).
  • The capacity for independent thought and judgement; the ability to articulate knowledge and understanding of texts, concepts and theories and to interrogate and apply a variety of theoretical positions and weigh the importance of alternative perspectives (English Benchmark Statement 1.3.9; 2.1; 2.3; 3.1.10; 3.2.2; 3.3.1; 3.3.7; 3.3.11).
  • Responsiveness to the central role of language in the creation of meaning and a sensitivity to the affective power of language (English Benchmark Statement 1.3.5; 1.3.8; 3.1.5; 3.1.11; 3.2.4).
  • The ability to comprehend and develop intricate concepts in an open-ended way which involves an understanding of purpose and consequences (English Benchmark Statement 1.3.6; 3.3.9).
  • Understanding of how cultural norms and assumptions influence questions of judgement (English Benchmark Statement 2.1; 2.2; 3.1.6; 3.1.7; 3.2.9).
  • The ability to analyse texts, using appropriate critical terminology. ( English Benchmark Statement 3.1.8; 3.2.1; 3.2.6; 3.3.12).
  • The ability to situate texts in intertextual debate and as responses to and interventions in contemporary culture. (English Benchmark Statement 3.1.7; 3.1.10; 3.1.11; 3.2.3; 3.2.8).
  • Competence in the planning and execution of essays, presentations and other writing and project work; bibliographic skills, including accurate citation of sources and consistent use of conventions in the presentation of scholarly work and the ability to engage in processes of drafting and redrafting texts to achieve clarity of expression and an appropriate style; making use, as appropriate, of a problem-solving approach (English Benchmark Statement 3.2.7; 3.3.4; 3.3.6; Communication, Media, Film and Cultural Studies benchmark 6.1.7).
  • Broad knowledge of a range of texts, genres, aesthetic forms and cultural practices, and the ability to produce close analysis of these and of the uses and implications of these approaches; an understanding of particular media forms and genres, and the way in which they organize understandings, meanings and affects (English Benchmark Statement 1.3.1; 3.1.1; 3.1.2; Communication, Media, Film and Cultural Studies benchmarks 4.1.5; 8.2.5).
  • Ability to gather information, analyse, interpret and discuss different viewpoints (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
  • An awareness of writing and publishing contexts, opportunities and audiences in the wider world (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.1).
  • Ability to connect creative and critical ideas between and among forms, techniques and types of creative and critical praxis. (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.2).
  • The ability to synthesize information from various sources, choosing and applying appropriate concepts and methods (English Benchmark Statement 3.3).


Resource implications for students

Students will need to buy copies of the novels studied on this module: - John Fowles, *The French Lieutenant’s Woman* (1969) - Jean Rhys, *Wide Sargasso Sea* (1966) - Amitav Gosh, *Sea of Poppies* (2008) - Sarah Perry, *The Essex Serpent* (2016) - Sarah Waters, *Fingersmith* (2002) All of these are available in affordable paperback editions and should cost between less than £30 in total. Films will be screened as part of the module.

Talis Reading list

Reading list

Topcis covered will include:

  • Introduction (critical readings)
  • Neo-Victorianism and Postmodernism
  • Reimag(in)ing Gender: Women and Violence in Neo-Victorian Cinema
  • Revising the Canon: Neo-Victorian Responses
  • Reimag(in)ing Empire and Neo-Victorian Cinema
  • The Empire Writes Back
  • Neo-Victorian Gothic I: Haunted Houses
  • Neo-Victorian Gothic II: Rewriting Folklore
  • Neo-Victorian Gothic III: Deconstructing Reality
  • Queering the Victorians
  • Adapting the Neo-Victorian

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: