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SEL3395 : The Victorian Novel: Time, Change, and the Life Course

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Jacob Jewusiak
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module examines how characters mature and develop (or fail to do so) in the Victorian novel. As we will see, the way an individual is represented as growing up reflects deeply held beliefs about the value of societal progress and reform. Through a detailed analysis of six novels, we will reflect upon how the human lifespan changes in response to the burgeoning modernity of the nineteenth century. We will explore how the novel form contributes to the construction of subjectivities across the life course and consider a broad range of questions, including the following: How did social expectations about gender and sexuality change with age? How did industrialisation create and shut down opportunities for young and elderly workers? What role did race and empire play in the perception of ageing? How was the concept of the life course informed by the partitioning of the novel into a beginning, middle, and end?

Outline Of Syllabus

The first half of the module will focus on novels such as The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell to examine how the Victorian era’s most powerful plots—such as the bildungsroman or the marriage plot—privilege certain life stages over others. We will read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to reflect upon the ways growing up challenges accounts of the lifespan that delimit age appropriate behaviours.

The second half of the module will examine the Victorian life course through a series of critical contexts. We will reflect upon the economics of ageing in William Morris’s News from Nowhere; evolutionary science and heredity in Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved; and the role of race and empire in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion401:0040:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching122:0024:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork12:002:00Trip to library special collections
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity111:0011:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery22:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1081:00108:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures provide the initial grounding which outlines the key contexts for the module and directs the students towards their independent study. Seminar time consolidates students' learning from their lectures and independent reading. This consolidation is supported by student-led group activities which act as preparation for the seminar.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M20Close reading essay (1000 words)
Research paper2A70Research essay (3000 words)
Reflective log2M10Students will keep a log of participation in seminars.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The first assignment asks students to choose a scene from a novel to close read as a way of constructing an argument about one of the module's themes. This assignment will teach students the importance of carefully choosing evidence, crafting a strong argument, and attending to the nuances of language and structure.

The skills from the first assignment will provide the foundation for the final essay. The final assessment tests students on their written argumentation, their successful acquisition of the module's key knowledge outcomes, and their understanding of the historical and social contexts of Victorian literary production. This assessment will ask students to research primary sources as a way of contextualizing their argument.

Reading Lists