English - Free topic E: Mirror of Modernity: Sensation and Nineteenth-Century Fiction

Course content

The course examines nineteenth-century texts that deal with sensation and other controversial preoccupations of the day. Through novels and short stories, we explore cultural cravings that mainstream culture struggled to contain, such as the danger of enervating domesticity, the threat of the ‘foreign’, altered mental states, the liberating possibilities of technology, and the appetite for scandal that erode orthodox values. The course falls in two parts.


Part one focuses on the ‘sensation novel’, which refers to a hugely popular sub-genre of the nineteenth-century gothic novel, accused by its critics of leaving its readers in a state of both physical and emotional over-excitement. With plots full of controversial topics like bigamy, mistaken identities, madness, legal fraud, proactive female heroines, and effeminate men, the sensation novels of the 1860s challenged a range of conventional mid-Victorian values and became harbingers of new gender roles and legal reform within property and family law in the last half of the nineteenth century. This course focuses on four of these sensation novels as routes into a broader discussion of the 1860s as a watershed decade in which the railways, the periodical press, the lunatic reforms, and the women’s property acts all contributed to bringing England closer to modernity.


Part two explores nineteenth-century fiction more broadly – while examining links to the sensation novel. The period saw rapid social change, and fiction writers took part in the shaping of debates on important issues of society, such as the status of women, morality, money, crime, murder, and punishment. We will read novels by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In various ways, these novels show how the progressive and triumphant nineteenth-century society was rife with destinies that were not so pretty. Alongside the great novels of the day, we will also look at the domestic uncanny in stories published in journals – essential for understanding reading and print culture at the time. We will look at the ‘penny dreadfuls’, which were cheap and sensational illustrated booklets produced for the popular market. Their tattered pages of blood-spattered plots, evil aristocrats, prostitution, and lady-murderers became the cause of much moral panic. This will lead us to consider the public concern about literature and its values, which in many ways correspond to discussions we are having today.



Seminarer, gruppearbejde, studenteroplæg, skriveøvelser

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret

Ellen Wood, East Lynne

This course leads to exams Free Topic 4 with Written and Oral Proficiency in English.

Kurset kan også bruges Frit emne A (inkl. skriftlig sprogfærdighed) og Frit emne B (inkl. mundtlig sprogfærdighed) under Kandidatdelen af sidefaget i engelsk 2019, samt Frit emne (inkl. skriftlig og mundtlig sprogfærdighed) under Kandidatdelen af sidefaget i engelsk 2020.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 353,5
  • English
  • 409,5


Course number
See exam description
Programme level
Full Degree Master
Master’s minor subject

1 semester

See schedule
Study board of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinators
  • Robert William Rix   (5-756d756c7b436b7870316e7831676e)
  • Lene Østermark-Johansen   (7-746a78796a7772456d7a7233707a336970)
Saved on the 17-04-2023

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