Women in Literature, Culture, and Society, 1850-1900

Module code: EN3138

Module co-ordinator: Dr Richa Dwor

This module will introduce you to the exciting range of writing by and about women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Texts to be covered will include novels, poetry, journalism, autobiography, drama, and a range of political, medical, and scientific treatises. 

We will explore a number of contentious contemporary issues, such as women and domesticity, the delights and dangers of the city, the place of the fallen woman in nineteenth-century society, medical and scientific definitions of woman, the professional woman writer, and feminist and anti-feminist debates. Visual representations will be used to illuminate textual material.

  • Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth (1853)
  • Henry Mayhew, selections from London Labour and the London Poor (1861-1862) and selections from William Acton, Prostitution Considered in its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects, in London and Other Large Cities, with Proposals for the Mitigation and Prevention of its Attendant Evils (1857) 
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret (1862) 
  • John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (1869)
  • Selections from Susan Hamilton, ed., 'Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors': Victorian Writing By Women On Women (second edn., Broadview, 2004)
  • Olive Schreiner, The Story of An African Farm (1883) 
  • Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship (1926)
  • George Gissing, The Odd Women (1893)
  • Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (1897)
  • George Bernard Shaw, Mrs Warren's Profession (1898)


Weekly two-hour seminars will introduce texts and contexts. Individual presentations are an essential part of the module and will help you develop your own research interests in the period.

By the end of the module, you will be able to...

  • Explore and evaluate the representation of women in mid- and late-nineteenth-century literature and thought
  • Place Victorian women's writing and writing about women firmly in its literary, social, and historical contexts
  • Develop a sophisticated understanding of gender and genre (fictional and non-fictional prose), and literary and cultural debates


  • One 5,000-word essay