Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Victorian Childhoods
Academic Year
Semester 1
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminar 11 x 2 Hour Seminars
Workshop 11 x 2 Hour Workshops


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 3000 word coursework essays  50%
Semester Assessment 1 x 3000 word coursework essay  50%
Supplementary Assessment Resit Assessment  Resit or resubmit failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. 

Learning Outcomes

1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the generic, historical, commercial and cultural contexts that shaped the texts studied on the module.

2. Engage with theoretical and critical debates (both of the time and of more recent scholars) on the construction of childhood in the Victorian period.

3. Produce critical work that engages in close textual analysis, employs relevant critical approaches, and makes reference to contemporary contexts and sources.

4. Demonstrate enhanced skills of independent thought and research, of working as part of a group, and of oral presentation


- To introduce students to a range of texts that were shaped by and helped to shape Victorian notions of childhood.
- To challenge students to interrogate the concepts of genre, readership, literary value, childhood, and the Victorian period.
- To analyse literary texts in the context of relevant historical and cultural factors, and to consider the relationship between literary texts, visual culture and material culture in the production of notions of childhood.

Brief description

Victorian Childhoods examines representations of childhood across a range of genres and readerships in the period 1850-1900. The module will challenge stereotypes about Victorian childhood that frequently figure the child as either a 'street urchin' or a being of unblemished innocence. We will consider our texts from the perspective of their engagement with a wide range of contextual issues, such as educational reform, evolutionary debate, the Woman Question, and child labour campaigns. We will also discuss issues of genre and audience and juxtapose representations of childhood in both 'high' and 'low' forms of literature. Henry James famously commented in 1899 that 'great fortunes, if not great reputations…are made by writing for schoolboys'. What role does genre and audience play in determining reception and literary value? The texts under consideration encompass writing that appears to be clearly for children, as well as writing that appears to be clearly for adults. Yet to what extent do some of these texts target both adults and children and how does that affect our analysis of the ways in which childhood is constructed in the text? In this module we will consider contextual issues, assess both Victorian and more recent critical responses to writing for and/or about children, and engage in our own close textual analysis in order to deepen our understanding of the wide-ranging nature of the child as symbolic figure in Victorian literature and culture.


Week 1:
Seminar: Introduction: Constructing the Child, Constructing the Victorians: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 'The Cry of the Children' (1842) and a selection of other sources
Workshop: Introduction II: Victorian childhood and visual culture

Week 2:
Seminar: Mid-Victorian Boyhood: Time for School: Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857)
Viewing: Documentary viewing and discussion: The Children who Built Victorian Britain (BBC Four, 2011)

Week 3:
Seminar: Mid-Victorian Girlhood and the Bildungsroman: George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
Worshop: The Mill on the Floss: close reading workshop

Week 4:
Seminar: The Evolutionary Child: Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies (1862-3)
Workshop: Essay skills session

Week 5:
Seminar: Fantasy and Coming of Age 1: Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871)
Viewing: Adapting Alice - viewing and discussion

Week 6:
Seminar: Fantasy and Coming of Age 2: Victorian fairy tales - a selection (George MacDonald, 'The Day Boy and the Night Girl' (1882), Charles Dickens, 'The Magic Fishbone' (1867); Juliana Horatia Ewing, 'Amelia and the Dwarfs' (1870); Christina Rossetti, 'Speaking Likenesses' (1874))
Fieldtrip: Victorian childhood and material culture (location to be arranged)

Week 7:
Seminar: Empire Boys and Girls?: Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (1883); extracts from the Girl's Own Paper
Workshop: Working with periodicals and ndewspaper online databases - the Girl's Own Paper and the Boy's Own Paper

Week 8:
Seminar: Questions of readership: Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) and The House of Pomegranates and Other Stories (1891)
Workshop: Writing Skills

Week 9:
Seminar: Seen and Not Heard? The Child at the Fin de Siecle: Henry James, What Maisie Knew (1897)
Viewing: Film viewing of What Maisie Knew (2012) followed by discussion.

Week 10: Module conclusions and essay consultation

Contact time - 40 hours
Primary reading - 125 hours
Supplementary reading - 90 hours
Essay writing - 50 hours
Team presentation - 5 hours

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number N/A
Communication Written communication in the form of essays, Oral communication in seminar discussion and group presentations
Improving own Learning and Performance Developing own research skills, management of time, expression and use of language.
Information Technology Use of electronic resources (JSTOR, websites); use of databases of digitized newspapers and periodicals; the production of written work.
Personal Development and Career planning by critical reflection and the development of transferable communication skills.
Problem solving Formulating and developing extended arguments
Research skills Relating literary texts to historical contexts and theoretical commentaries, and by synthesizing various perspectives in an evaluative argument.
Subject Specific Skills Detailed critical and contextual analysis of literary texts and evaluation of theoretical concepts.
Team work Through group presentations in seminars – this will involve preparation outside of class and team work within the seminar.


This module is at CQFW Level 6