Faculty of Arts


From Romantics to Victorians


In the fifth chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865), the Caterpillar asks Alice, "Who are you?" Alice is perplexed, and ends up saying, ‘'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir … because I'm not myself, you see."

Much nineteenth-century literature was centrally concerned with the capacities and potentialities of the human mind, including questions of identity. Identity was also influenced by the individual’s interactions with the other, of various kinds. This course aims to trace these concerns through a variety of texts from the 1790s through to the 1880s. Because the inner life was especially a focus of poetry, many of the texts are in this form, but some prose is featured too – including Alice in Wonderland.

The course begins with the Romantic concept of the imagination, studied through S.T. Coleridge’s poetry from the 1790s, and his famous definition of the imagination in Biographia Literaria (1817). It goes on to consider The Bride of Lammermoor by Walter Scott, the great novelist of the Romantic movement. Then, focussing on notable treatments of psychological states, including unusual and aberrant psychological states, it looks at the dramatic monologues of this genre’s most prominent Victorian practitioners, Robert Browning and Augusta Webster. By contrast, Carroll’s "Alice" books offer a more light-hearted but still probing exploration of questions of identity.

The second half of the course concentrates on interactions between the self and other. It starts with the poetry of John Keats from the second decade of the century, and then examines, through Charles Dickens’s Hard Times (1854), the effects on human relationships of the mid-nineteenth-century tendency to privilege facts over imagination. Meanwhile Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam (1850) is an extended elegy for a close friend who died young, but is also famous for raising questions about human and social development later canvassed in Darwin’s works. Large questions affecting human bonds are also to the fore in the last text studied, Olive Schreiner’s late-nineteenth-century novel, The Story of an African Farm (1883), which highlights the impact of differences in gender roles, religious beliefs, and race.

Assessment: Coursework + Exam

Essay covering one writer: 1200 words

Essay covering at least two writers: 2000 words

Class exercises: 5 x 200 words

Exam: 2 hours

Availability 2020

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Dr Claudia Marquis
Professor Joanne Wilkes


Essay covering one writer: 1200 words

Essay covering at least two writers: 2000 words

Class exercises: 5 x 200 words

Exam: 2 hours


ENGLISH 313: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage II in English

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