Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Victorian Childhoods
Academic Year
Semester 2
Reading List
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Critical Essay  Critical Essay 4000 Words  100%
Supplementary Assessment Critical Essay  Critical Essay 4000 Words  100%

Learning Outcomes

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

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

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

Demonstrate enhanced skills of independent thought and research.

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 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 a symbolic figure in Victorian literature and culture.


This 3rd year option module combines close textual analysis, literary history, and material and visual culture, as well as contemporary historical contexts, in order to examine the representation and role of childhood in Victorian literary culture. The module's interest in historical context and also material and visual culture may make it of particular interest to students studying joint honours with history, education, or art.


Session 1 - Introduction: Constructing the Child, Constructing the Victorians

Session 2 - The Working Child, the Protesting Poet
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 'The Cry of the Children'

Session 3 - Mid-Victorian Girlhood and Boyhood
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)

Session 4 - Mid-Victorian Girlhood and Boyhood II
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)

Session 5 - The Evolutionary Child.
Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies (1862-3)

Session 6 - Fantasy and Coming of Age
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871)

Session 7 - Victorian Children's Periodicals
Selections from the Girl's Own Paper and the Boy's Own Paper

Session 8 - Victorian Fairy Tales
Tales by Juliana Horatia Ewing, Lucy Lane Clifford, and Oscar Wilde

Session 9 - A New Era?
E. Nesbit, The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899)

Session 10 - Module conclusions and assessment consultation

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 (JSTOE, 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 By relating literaary texts to historical contexts and theoretical commentaries, and by synthesizing various persepctives in an evaluative argument.
Subject Specific Skills Detailed critical and contextual analysis of literary texts and evaluation of the 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