Victorian Sensation Fiction

Level 6 (15 credits)

Audiences could not get enough of the best-selling stories of bigamy, madness, and murder known as the sensation novel. This module will consider the Sensation Maniaof the 1860s as a literary, historical, and psychological phenomenon reflecting many of the cultural anxieties of Victorian society. To this end, we will examine how a variety of sensation narratives participated in contemporary debates over sexuality and provided alternate ways of thinking about identity. Texts to be covered include the key novels to establish the genre of sensation fiction.

Preparing for this Module and Approximate Costs

The best way to prepare for this module will be to read the following three novels in advance:

  • Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
  • Ellen Wood, East Lynne
  • Mary Braddon, Aurora Floyd

If you would like to do some preparatory critical reading, the most useful introductions to sensation fiction include:

Jessica Cox, Victorian Sensation Fiction (2019)

Anne-Marie Beller, ‘“The Fashions of the Current Season”: Recent Critical Work on Victorian Sensation Fiction’, Victorian Literature and Culture 45 (2017): 461-73.

Andrew Mangham, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Sensation Fiction (2013)

Pamela K. Gilbert, A Companion to Sensation Fiction (2011)

Patrick Brantlinger, ‘What Is “Sensational” About the “Sensation Novel”?’ Nineteenth-Century Fiction 37.1 (1982): 1-28.

Primary texts costing up to £30 in total if purchased new in recommended editions (Oxford, Penguin, or Broadview). Note that these costs can be reduced by purchasing items second-hand or borrowing them from the Library.

Why take
Victorian Sensation Fiction

  • Read bestselling stories of murder, madness, and adultery known as the Sensation Novel.
  • Discuss Victorian anxieties toward scandal, secrecy, crime, mental illness, and family breakdown.
  • Explore local connections to the Whitechapel murders of 1888 associated with Jack the Ripper.
Learning Context Long Seminar
Semester One
  1. Presentation (10 mins), 10%
  2. Written Assignment 1 (1500 words), 30%
  3. Written Assignment 2 (2500 words), 60%
Mode of reassessment Standard