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Study information

Empire, Decadence and Modernity: Literature 1870-1910

Module titleEmpire, Decadence and Modernity: Literature 1870-1910
Module codeEASM150
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Simon Rennie (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module will explore how the sense of confidence, stability and progress that characterised much public discourse of the mid-century was increasingly challenged and complicated by emerging scientific, technological, and aesthetic discourses in the later decades of the nineteenth century.

Module aims - intentions of the module

In the later decades of the nineteenth century, the sense of confidence, stability and progress that characterised much public discourse of the mid-century was increasingly challenged and complicated by emerging scientific, technological, and aesthetic discourses. In the years after 1870, biologistic and racial thinking intensified as writers considered the implications of Darwin's Descent of Man (1871). Walter Pater’s ‘Conclusion’ to the Studies in the History of the Renaissance inspired a new generation of artists to reject the conventions of Victorian morality and explore new forms of art. With the rush of modernity and the impact of new technologies on culture, the individual and the landscape, ideas of place, time, and the body were thrown into sharp relief. Focussing on key literary texts alongside visual and other prose sources, this module will examine the key social, cultural and literary issues that came to the fore after 1870, including the emergence of new forms, such as science fiction and lost world fiction, and the transformation of existing forms such as the gothic; debates about the role of art and beauty in society; the relationship between biology and the individual; the construction of late nineteenth-century imperialist discourse together with growing fears of imperial decline and racial degeneration; the re-imagining of mythic pasts; the enthusiasm for racial and moral regeneration through women; the ideological complexities of late nineteenth-century feminism; and changing notions of space and time.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced knowledge and understanding of key social, intellectual, and ideological issues in nineteenth-century interdisciplinary studies, and familiarity with various literary styles and genres
  • 2. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the social, economic, political, scientific, and cultural debates of the Victorian period
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced capacity to analyse contemporary critical debates in the field of Victorian Studies
  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced skill in the research into a variety of literary and other media from the nineteenth-century using physical and electronic resources

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to your own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to digest, select, and organise interdisciplinary material and to trace the development of debates across disciplinary boundaries
  • 7. Demonstrate an ability to devise, research, and execute a programme of substantial scholarly research

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 9. Through the writing of an extended essay and research report, demonstrate an ability to construct work of substantial length, detail, and some originality
  • 10. Through responses to constructive feedback, demonstrate an advanced and intellectually mature ability to reflect upon and strengthen written and other work

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Aestheticism
  • Decadence and the Gothic
  • Modernity, Perception, Identity
  • Biology and the emotions
  • Myth and the Modern Imaginary
  • The New Woman: Marriage, class and heredity
  • Place and Environment
  • City Streets
  • Kipling and Empire
  • Imperial Romance and Gender
  • Bodies in the Machine

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 teaching22Seminar/webinar and asynchronous learning
Guided independent study175Reading, research and essay preparation
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study33Web-based research into Victorian primary sources (periodicals, newspapers)

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay proposal750 words1-3, 5-6, 8-10Oral feedback with student write up of meeting

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
Literature review 201500 words1-6,8-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay805000 words1-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Literature reviewLiterature review1-6, 8-9Referral/Deferral Period
Essay (5000 words)Essay (5000 words)1-10Referral/Deferral Period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative Primary Reading:

  • George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876)
  • Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native (1878)
  • Oscar Wilde, ‘The Happy Prince’ (1888)
  • Arthur Machen, The Three Imposters (1895)
  • W.H. Hudson, Green Mansions (1904)
  • Elias Lonnrot (trans. John Martin Crawford) Kalevala (1888)
  • Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Man Who Would Be King (1888)
  • H. Rider Haggard, Allen Quatermain (1887)
  • H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895)
  • Selected poetry including R. E. Egerton Warburton, 'Past and Present'; John Davidson, 'Thirty Bob a Week'; T. E. Brown, 'Dartmoor: Sunset at Chagford', and 'High Overhead’
  • Selected materials available via the module’s ELE page.

Indicative Secondary Reading:

  • Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1983; CUP 2009)
  • Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins (Allen Lane, 2009)
  • Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland and Jane Rendall (eds), Defining The Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and the British Reform Act of 1867 (CUP, 2000)
  • Martin Hewitt, ed. The Victorian World (Routledge, 2012)
  • James George Frazer, The Golden Bough (1890)
  • Juliet John, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture (Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst (eds), The Fin de Siècle: A Reader in Cultural History, c. 1880-1900 (2000)
  • John Plunkett, Paul Young, Angelique Richardson, Regenia Gagnier, Rick Rylance and Ana Parejo Vadillo, eds. Victorian Literature: A Sourcebook, (Palgrave, 2012)
  • Rohan McWilliam and Kelly Boyd, ed. The Victorian Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2007)
  • Bernard Porter, The Lion's Share: a short history of British imperialism, 1850-1983 (2004)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Victorian, progress, globabisation, the city, industrial revolution, modernity, myth, empire, emotions, realism

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

June 2013

Last revision date