Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 5000 word essay  100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. Where this involves re-submission of work, a new topic must be selected.  Resubmission of failed element 

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the module, students should be able to:

1. Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the text(s) under review in the written assignment, and an awareness of the broader cultural and theoretical issues raised by the module

2. Demonstrate an ability to write competently about the texts with reference to their cultural and historical background

3. Produce organised, coherently argued, and critically informed written work

Brief description

This module will focus on literature of the second half of the Victorian period, and will explore cultural and philosophical issues relevant to the time.


To explore how poets of the mid-late Victorian period took up the intellectual challenge presented by the radical shift in human self-perceptions resulting from the dissemination of Darwinian theory. It will seek to foster a critical awareness of these issues and to assess the extent to which the poetry studied reflects a broader cultural change.


Session 1
This is an introductory session focusing on selected readings from Darwin and Nietzsche. It will explore some of the implications of human evolution, its significance for religious belief, philosophy and literature.

Session 2
This session will focus on poems by Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning. Students will be asked to consider the ways in which the later works of these poets reflects changing ideas of human life and human destiny in the light of geological and evolutionary thought.

Session 3
The focal text for this session will be James Thomson'r long poem `The City of Dreadful Night?, considering the ways in which its ambivalence about Darwinian thought reflects a complex reaction to evolution and its implications for the Christian account of humanity'r origins and destiny. As in all sessions, peer feedback and tutorial guidance will play a leading part in the learning process.

Session 4
This session will explore short poems by a number of authors (including Constance Naden, Agnes Mary Robinson and Louisa S. Guggenberger), in terms of their treatment of human yearnings and proclivities as evolutionary phenomena. Students will be asked to reflect on the implications of these poems for human self-understanding and traditional notions of `love?, `soul?, `spirit? and personality.

Session 5
This session will focus on Mathilde Blind'r long poem `The Ascent of Man?, as an attempt to recast Christian mythological formations, and to posit a transcendent alternative to the brutality of the Darwinian struggle for survival.

Reading List

Essential Reading
Blind, Mathilda The Ascent of Man available through LION Primo search Darwin, Charles (1982) The Origin of the Species Penguin Primo search Naden, Constance Evolutional Erotics available through LION Primo search Neitzsche, Friedrich (1967) The Portable Nietzsche, ed Walter Kaufmann Vintage Primo search Ricks, Christopher (ed) (2002) The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse OUP Primo search Robinson, Agnes Mary "Men and Monkeys" and "Darwinism" will be supplied Primo search Thomson, James The City of Dreadful Night available through LION Primo search
Recommended Text
Beer, Gillian (1983) Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth Century Fiction Routledge and Kegan Paul Primo search
Supplementary Text
Armstrong, Isobel (1993) Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics Routledge Primo search Desmond, Adrian and Moore, James (1991) Darwin Penguin Primo search Gilmour, Robin (1993) The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1830-1890 Longman Primo search Stevenson, Lionel (1963) Darwin among the Poets Russell and Russell Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 7