Extreme States: From Hysteria to Desire (TRU3047)

StaffDr Christopher Stokes - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to think about the types of experience and selfhood explored through the persistent motif of extremity, in writers ranging from William Godwin to A.C. Swinburne. Students will have to the opportunity to understand and contextualise a variety of ‘extreme states’, ranging from paranoia and suicide, to abuse and desire, interpreting them through appropriate critical frameworks such as phenomenological criticism, historicism and feminism. The motif of ‘extreme states’ also engages broader understandings of ‘Romanticism’ as an aesthetics of the limit, and an important part of the module will be to gain an understanding of the Romantic era, its literature and recent critical approaches deployed in Romanticist scholarship. The chronological span of the module, however, covers both the conventional ‘Romantic’ dates of the 1790s to the 1820s, but also encourages students to think about the echoes and after-effects of Romanticism in later writers like Tennyson, Bronte and Swinburne.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate informed appreciation of the nature, history and function of extreme psychological states as a literary theme.
  • 2. Demonstrate informed appreciation of Romantic literature as a school, including its determining historical contexts and its later Victorian legacies.
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of, and an advanced ability to engage with, relevant critical approaches to Romanticism and Victorian literature.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse literature centering on self and to relate its concerns and modes of expression to its historical context
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses 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. Demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups, through seminar work
  • 8. Demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose, through essay-writing
  • 9. Advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis, through research for seminars, use of digital archives, annotated bibliographies, and essays
  • 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. Hysteria (Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and The Wrongs of Woman)

2. Female Suicide (Mary Robinson, ‘Sappho and Phaon’, and others)

3. Drugs (Thomas De Quincey)

4.. Trauma (Lord Byron, selected poetry)

5. Incest (P.B. Shelley, The Cenci)

6. Apocalypse (Mary Shelley, The Last Man).

7. Illness (Charles Lamb, ‘The Convalescent’, Felicia Hemans, Thoughts During Sickness, Henry Kirke White)

8. Alienation (Lord Tennyson, selected poetry)

9. Abuse (Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall)

10. Desire (A.C. Swinburne, selected poetry)

11. Extreme States (Viva Voces and preparation)


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 & Teaching activities11Lectures/workshops (11x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities22Seminars (11 x 2 hours)
Guided independent study 267Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method

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
Essay 1352,000 words1-6, 8-10Essay feedback sheet and marker’s annotations
Essay 2503,000 words1-6, 8-10Essay feedback sheet and marker’s annotations
Viva Voce1510 minutes1-7Presentation Feedback Sheet

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 1 2000wordsEssay 2000 words1-6, 8-10Referral/deferral period
Essay 2 3000wordsEssay 3000words1-6, 8-10Referral/deferral period
Viva VoceEssay 1000words1-7Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

If a student is unable to complete the Viva Voce 15% assessment during the standard assessment cycle, the student will be asked to complete a 1,000 word essay in its place during the reassessment period (details to be set with the convenor).

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Students should purchase:


Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821 version)

Mary Shelley, The Last Man

Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

A.C. Swinburne, Poems and Ballads/Atalanta in Calydon


Other readings will be provided on ELE


Selected Further Reading:


Thomas Brennan, Trauma, Transcendence and Trust: Wordsworth, Tennyson and Eliot Thinking Loss

Carmen Casaliggi and Paul March Russell (eds.), Legacies of Romanticism: Literature, Culture, Aesthetics

Timothy Clark, The Theory of Inspiration: Composition as a Crisis of Subjectivity in Romantic and Post-Romantic Writing

Joel Faflak and Richard C. Sha (eds.), Romanticism and the Emotions

Andrea Henderson,Romantic Identities: Varieties of Subjectivity, 1740-1830

Adela Pinch, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen

Thomas Pfau, Romantic Moods: Paranoia, Trauma and Melancholy, 1790-1840

Charles Taylor,Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity

Richard Sha, Perverse Romanticism: Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750-1832


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Exeter Learning Environment (ELE)


Project Muse

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Key words search

Literature, Romanticism, Victorian