Skip to main content

Victorian Femininities: the Myths, the Power, the Politics


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Victoria Mills
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (100%)

Module description

In this module we will study a range of sources including novels, poetry, essays and paintings to explore debates about the Woman Question as they developed during the second half of the nineteenth century.

The first lecture explores two Victorian female archetypes - the Fallen Woman and her ‘ideal’ counterpart - and introduces you to some critical methodologies for studying the representation of women in both Victorian literature and art. Subsequent weeks are divided into themed blocks. In block one, we consider the relationship between women and work through a reading of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth. Block two examines the marriage question and related debates about female sexuality through a range of periodical material (letters and essays) and through a reading of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Mona Caird’s The Daughters of Danaus. Block three focuses on the relationship between women and the periodical press in more detail, and you will be given the opportunity to do your own research into a range of Victorian periodicals.

Indicative module syllabus

  • The Ideal and Fallen Woman in Victorian Literature and Art
  • Women and Work
    • Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853) plus Brontë’s letters
    • Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth (1853)
  • Women, Marriage and Sexuality
    • Thomas Hardy Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891)
    • Periodical essays and letters by Francis Power Cobbe, W.R. Gregg, Harry Quilter, Mona Caird
    • Mona Caird, The Daughters of Danaus (1894)
  • Women and the Periodical Press
  • Gender and the Victorian Periodical
  • The Role and Representation of Women in the Victorian Periodical Press including The Englishwoman’s Journal, The Victoria Magazine, The Woman’s World

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand how the Victorians debated and contested female identity and how this changed across the nineteenth century
  • examine a range of nineteenth-century art and literature and show how it represents femininity
  • understand femininity in the context of important Victorian debates about evolution, new technologies, politics, art, design and literature
  • recognise and understand key critical and interdisciplinary approaches to studying Victorian femininity, including queer theory and recent work on gender and performativity
  • undertake independent research into Victorian periodicals using online databases and archival collections.