BA English Literature and American Studies

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Victorian Rights: Victorian Wrongs

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL22102
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


We tend to think of the Victorian period in terms of its many ‘wrongs’ – sexual repression, harsh labour conditions, poverty, and empire.  Yet the Victorian period was also a time of increasing economic and political ‘rights’.  This course examines the role of Victorian literature in combating wrongs and campaigning for rights.  In particular, it focuses on the rights and wrongs of: labour, women, sexuality, and race.  It takes a nuanced and critical approach to the question of ‘rights’ asking, for example, to what extent the Victorians saw ‘rights’ as universal and complementary, and to what extent they saw them as conditional and subject to competing claims?  Why did  Victorian society find it easier to grant rights in some areas but not others?  If you are interested in the ways in which literature can make a social difference, this is the course for you!  


  • To introduce students to a range of Victorian debates concerning rights in the areas of labour, gender, and race, as mediated in and through the literature of the period; 

  • To enable students to analyse the ways in which Victorian literature diagnosed social ills (wrongs) and imagined solutions to those problems (rights); 

  • To provide students with a nuanced and critical understanding of the Victorian period as an era which saw both advances and reverses in the general area of rights. 


Please note this is an indicative reading list (but each text contributes to the debate on rights in at least two areas): 


  • Elizabeth Gaskell, North & South  

  • Selection of Chartist poetry  

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh  

  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations  

  • Olive Schreiner, The Story of An African Farm  

Teaching and learning methods

This course will be taught by a weekly 2 hour lecture and a weekly 1 hour seminar. Materials including; llecture slides, bibliographies, exercises, handouts, will be posted on Blackboard each week. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of Victorian debates concerning rights in the areas of  labour, gender and race; 

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the role played by Victorian literature in the debates over rights; 

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the relationships (both complementary and conflictual) between different rights; 

  • Demonstrate a nuanced and critical understanding of the progress and regress of specific rights across the Victorian period. 

Intellectual skills

  • Identify and analyse the contribution made by literary texts to debates on rights; 

  • Critically evaluate competing claims regarding personal, social, political and economic rights. 

Practical skills

  • Make good use of library, electronic, and online resources pertaining to the course; 

  • Plan and execute independent research on the social role of literature in the Victorian period;  

  • Speak and write clearly on the topic of rights in the Victorian period. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Retrieve, sift, organise, synthesise and critically evaluate material from a range of different sources, including library, electronic, and online resources; 

  • Demonstrate good teamworking skills by working with other students to develop and deliver a group project; 

  • Manage time effectively by scheduling tasks in order of importance; 

  • Develop a critically, reflective yet sensitive attitude to the complex debates surrounding rights. 

Employability skills

This course enhances student employability by giving students a range of transferable skills. These include: logical thought; good oral and written communication skills, resourcefulness in the ability to gather, interpret, analyse and/or evaluate critical sources; time management skills [[through the completion of independent or deadline-driven work]]; teamworking skills thorough the use of a group project. It also enhances the ability of students to identify and articulate acquired skills through the reflective report on the group project.

Assessment methods

Assessment task  

Weighting within unit (if summative) 

Group Project 


Individual Project Report 


Exam (2 hour) 


Recommended reading

Patrick Brantlinger, Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies (2009) 

Deirdre David, ed., The Cambridge Compansion to the Victorian Novel, 2nd ed (2012). 

Gretchen Gerzina, Black Victorians, Black Victoriana (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press) 

Juliet John, ed. Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture (OUP, 2016) 

Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Duke University Press, 2015) 

Linda H. Peterson, ed, The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women’s Writing, (CUP, 2015). 

Lawrence W. Mazzeno, ed. Twenty-first Century Perspectives on Victorian Literature (Lanham ML: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Michael Sanders Unit coordinator

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