Sex, Scandal and Sensation in Victorian Literature (TRU3029)

StaffProfessor Jason Hall - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisites120 credits at level 2
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

What literature caused a sensation among or even shocked Victorian readers, and how did they respond to it? Looking across a range of poetry and fiction from the period, this module engages directly with hotly debated issues, such as the burgeoning market for cheap, unhealthy literature, the tensions among social classes, and the scandals relating to marriage, divorce, sexuality and prostitution. From tales of murder and incarceration, to fantasies of female vampirism, the Victorian literature of sex, scandal and sensation excited readers' imaginations as well as their passions. The core reading emphasizes popular and genre fiction, but includes poetry and contextual documents as well.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the literature and history of the Victorian period.
  • 2. Demonstrate an advanced capacity to place literature (including popular and ephemeral works) in the context of social and cultural events (e.g., divorce, sexuality, prostitution).
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced ability to engage with concepts such as gender, sexuality, class, nation and empire.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse Victorian literature (1830s-1900s) and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups.
  • 8. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 9. Through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 10. Through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate an advanced capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process.

Syllabus plan

1 Victorian Body Shocks:  Introduction to Scholarship and Key Idea

2 Reading Real-Life Scandals: Extracts from Victorian Periodicals

3 Dreadful Doings: Anon., The String of Pearls [Sweeney Todd] (1846-7)

4 Fallen Women: Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth (1853)

5 Wages of Sin: Robert Browning, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ (1836); Christina Rossetti, ‘The Convent Threshold’ (1862); Augusta Webster, A Castaway (1870); Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘Jenny’ (1870); Amy Levy, ‘Magdalen’ (1884)

6 Sensation, Suspense, (In)Sanity: Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1859-60)

7 Opportunities Week - No seminars

8 Bigamy, Violence and the Femme Fatale: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

9 Science, Medicine, Madness: Wilkie Collins, Jezebel’s Daughter (1880) 

10 Erotomania: Anon., Teleny (1893)

11 Sex and Circumstance: Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (1895)

12 Gothic Sexualities and the Empire: Richard Marsh, The Beetle (1897)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities11Lecture (11x1hr)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Seminar (11x2hrs)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities11Study group (11x1hr)
Guided independent study256Private study

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay352000 words1-6, 8-10Essay feedback sheet and marker's annotations
Annotated Bibliography151000 words1-6, 8-10Essay feedback sheet andmarker's annotations
Essay503000 words1-6, 8-10Essay feedback sheet and marker's annotations

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-6, 8-10referral/deferral period
Annotated BibliographyAnnotated Bibliography1-6 8-10referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-6, 8-10referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative basic reading list:

(Texts not listed below are collected in a module reading pack.)

Primary texts

    Anon., Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, ed. Robert Mack (Oxford, 2007)
    Anon., Teleny: Or, the Reverse of the Medal (Valancourt, 2010)
    Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (Oxford, 2012)
    Wilkie Collins, Jezebel’s Daughter (Oxford, 2016)
    Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (Oxford, 2008)
    Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth (Oxford, 2008)
    Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (Oxford, 2008)
    Richard Marsh, The Beetle (Broadview, 2004)

Selected secondary texts

    Richard Altick, The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public (Ohio, 1957)
    Richard Altick, The Presence of the Present: Topics of the Day in the Victorian Novel (Ohio State, 1991)
    Nicholas Daly, Sensation and Modernity in the 1860s (Cambridge, 2009)
    Michael Diamond, Victorian Sensation: Or, the Spectacular and the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Anthem, 2004)
    Andrew Mangham, Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime, Medicine and Victorian Popular Culture (Palgrave, 2007)
    Judith Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State (Cambridge, 1980)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative web based resources:

Exeter Learning Environment (e-learning platform)


Project Muse

Nineteenth-Century British Library Newspapers

Nineteenth-Century UK Periodicals Online


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Victorian, Sensation, Sex and Scandal