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Literature 4B: British Literature: Nineteenth Century


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Literature 1A, 1B and Literature 2 or equivalent.


This course covers British literature and culture of the nineteenth century. It begins with the literature of the period, usually titled the Romantic period. Some of Britain’s most popular poets are Romantics: Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Keats. The period is also a rich one for the novel, seeing both such Gothic masterpieces as Frankenstein, the invention of the historical novel by Maria Edgeworth and Walter Scott, and the social comedies of Jane Austen. Major concerns in the literature and culture of this period are: the relationship between man and nature; art and society; sensibility and civility; poetry as politics; the social status of women; the outsider (whether monster, lunatic, criminal, child or rebel); theories of the imagination; and poetic experimentation. Poetic genres that will be discussed are lyric, ballad, ode and sonnet, as well as fictional genres such as the gothic novel and the novel of manners.
The Victorian period was an age of confusion and profusion, of energy and anxiety. It saw the invention of populist journalism, terrorist explosions, the telegraph, the telephone, the photograph, film, the machine-gun, and the celebrity interview. In literary terms, as an unprecedented expansion of the reading public took place, the period invented: detective fiction; the literary ghost story; the school story; the boy’s book; war reportage; and the spy story. Industrialism and urbanization at home was matched by colonial wars and imperial expansion abroad. These innovations signal the onset of a thoroughly modern society. Authors sensitive to the social instability and inequality that such development brought about, such as Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters and Thomas Hardy reacted negatively or at least critically to such developments. The decline of Christian faith, with attendant fears, also marked the period: Darwin published The Origin of Species; the word ‘agnostic’ was first coined. With economic and scientific developments gathering pace, many authors also engaged with the fundamental question of how to live within such a volatile world George Eliot, in Silas Marner, looks back at a rural society just before the onset of the Victorian era and uses a fable to investigate whether the ideal society lies in the past. Many prominent poets, from Browning to Rossetti, engaged with issues of faith and doubt. Other cultural theorists and writers turned to the idealisation of the aesthetic realm, or an escape into a desirable dream realm, as in the poetry of W. B. Yeats, culminating in the art for art’s sake movement, of which Oscar Wilde is the most famous exponent. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century, many authors seemed infected with the fin de siècle bug, brooding over the degeneration of western civilization. Some turned to romance, and fantastic modes of writing and cynical caricature to express their reactions to a quickly changing cultural landscape, exploring the tensions of the Imperial project in India, Africa, or closer to home in Ireland.

Course objectives

This course will extend and deepen the power of students’ literary critical analysis through in-depth consideration of texts. Students will explore critical debates central to the literature of the nineteenth century. The course will also aim to extend the students’ skills in the reading of narrative and the understanding of the relationship of a text to its cultural/social context. Students will be encouraged to share analytical and critical views on the texts ascribed in class discussion, including, where needed, short presentations, and will focus research skills in the writing of a final essay. This essay will be on a relevant subject of their own choice within the parameters of the course, and will further extend the students’ critical skills and their ability to produce good, clear writing. A final exam will test students’ knowledge of the literature of the period, and give them an opportunity to display their insight, their familiarity with the texts, and the range of their critical ideas.


The timetable will be available by June 1st at

Mode of instruction

2-hour tutorial per week

Assessment method

  • Essay(s) (50%):
    Two essays of 1200 words (25% each); or, one longer essay on a comparative subject (dealing with at least two texts featured on the syllabus) of 2500 words (50%).
    Both essays are due on the Monday following the last teaching week of the semester.

  • Final Exam (50%)
    This exam will feature questions about the literature on the syllabus. The questions are designed to allow students to formulate informative answers based on critical insight into Victorian literature and knowledge of the various important contexts gained during the tutorial discussion and individual study.


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol.II, gen.ed. M.H. Abrams (8th edn, 2006); referred to as Norton in the reading schedule. You could also use Volume D (The Romantic Period), Volume E (The Victorian Age), as they are easier to carry.

  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics).

  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Oxford World Classics (but not the version edited by Marilyn Butler) or Penguin Classics).

  • Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (Oxford World Classics).

  • Charles Dickens, Hard Times (Penguin Classics).

  • George Eliot, Silas Marner (Penguin Classics).

  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes / The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin Classics).


Students should register through uSis. Exchange students cannot register through uSis, but must see the director of studies and register with her. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Departmental Office English Language and Culture, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144; mail:
Studentcounsellor Bachelor: Ms. S.H.J. Bollen, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103B.
Coordinator of Studies Master: Ms. K. van der Zeeuw-Filemon, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103C.


The timetable will be avialable by June 1st on
WEEK 1: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
WEEK 2: John Keats, the five Odes, ‘To Autumn’, ‘The Eve of Saint Agnes’, ‘Bright Star’, ‘When I Have Fears’, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’; excerpts from letters (all in NORTON).
WEEK 3: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.
WEEK 4: Lord Byron, Don Juan (all the extracts in NORTON)
WEEK 5: Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights.
WEEK 6: Alfred Tennyson, all the excerpts from In Memoriam (in NORTON).
WEEK 7: Charles Dickens, Hard Times.
WEEK 8: George Eliot, Silas Marner.
WEEK 9: Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (in NORTON).
WEEK 10: Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (in NORTON).
WEEK 11: Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
WEEK 12: Thomas Hardy, all poems available on Blackboard.