Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Sensational Sales: Victorian Popular Literature 1848-1894
Academic Year
Semester 1
Reading List
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Coursework Assignment  1 x 5000-word comparative essay, OR 3000-word creative piece and 2000-word commentary.  100%
Supplementary Assessment Coursework Assignment  1 x 5000-word comparative essay, OR 3000-word creative piece and 2000-word commentary.  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Engage with theoretical and critical debates (both of the time and of more recent scholars) about genre and popularity in the Victorian period.

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

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

‘Sensational Sales: Victorian Popular Literature, 1848-94’ considers Victorian literature in terms of its bestsellers, some of which have fallen from fame in the years since their initial publication. Why have some of these texts become part of the literary ‘canon’ whereas others have vanished from all but the dustiest of bookshelves? In this module, we will consider what it means to be popular in the Victorian period, and think about the new genres and readerships that emerged in this period. We will analyse the texts, which include sensation fiction, poetry, and the gothic, in conjunction with contemporary non-fictional writing by the likes of Ruskin, Samuel Smiles, Mrs Beeton and others in order to contextualize them within debates about gender, class, empire and literary celebrity.

Estimated Student Workload
Contact time 20 hours
Reading and preparation - 100 hours
Independent study preparing for seminars/assignments - 80 hours


This module will add to the suite of option modules available on our MA programme in literary studies. The module comprises a variety of genres and therefore has the potential to echo and build upon students’ experiences in other sections of the MA programme. Students will be encouraged to conduct additional research using Victorian newspaper and periodicals databases, which may open up new routes into dissertation work.


Session 1: Introduction
Session 2: Sex, scandal and social criticism - Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
Session 3: Workshop: Periodicals and print culture
Session 4: Literary celebrity and self-made men - Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)
Session 5: Workshop: Viewing the Victorians
Session 6: Sensation fiction - Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)
Session 7: Popular literature and protest - Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (1877)
Session 8: Workshop: Writing (as) the Victorians
Session 9: Mesmerising popularity? The forgotten bestseller - George du Maurier, Trilby (1894)
Session 10: Module conclusions

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
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 By 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 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 7