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ENGL2094 Victorian Feelings

Module Overview

Joy, dejection, devotion, boredom—among the ways in which we respond to literary texts, feelings are perhaps the most immediate and the most permanent. And yet, feeling is often treated as reason’s less reputable cousin. For the Victorians, however, feeling was not only the ephemeral stuff of private experience; rather, as James Fitzjames Stephen wrote in 1863, emotions ‘exercise so powerful an influence over our conduct, that they may almost be said to determine it.’ Feeling was central to Victorian thought in a number of areas. In addition to illuminating the deep recesses of selfhood, feeling could comprise the very foundations of public life: a way to fortify communities increasingly strained by the divisions between classes, genders, and nationalities. Feeling offered a way of determining not just masculinity and femininity, self and other, but also limits of freedom and determination, humanity and inhumanity. During the nineteenth century feeling became fodder for socio-political and scientific enquiry, but increasingly literature became both the crucial way of engendering and educating feeling, and of testing the effects of feeling. This module follows the Victorians themselves by treating feeling as a key object of study. Reading across a wide variety of Victorian genres and forms, poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, you will evaluate the idea that feeling can help us to know others, consider the relationship between feeling and thought, and examine the social and political uses of feelings such as sympathy, grief, love, and disgust. If we are often influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by our feelings about literary history, this module helps to show what insights can be gained by recalling that feeling itself has a history.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• consider the ways in which Victorian literature responds to and depicts feeling • place feeling in historical context • develop your knowledge of current critical and theoretical approaches to the emotions • gain knowledge of the relationship between feeling and a number of pervasive political and social concerns

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • appreciate, understand, and critically analyse Victorian literature
  • make effective links between literary, critical and conceptual developments during the period
  • develop an informed and reflective understanding of the role of feeling in nineteenth-century culture
  • consider critically how literary periods are shaped, defined, and remembered
  • improve your essay-writing skills


This module will examine the practice and theory of feeling in a wide range of Victorian texts. In the first weeks, we will consider both Victorian and contemporary theories of feeling, including ‘affect theory’. During the course of this module you will consider questions such as, are emotions innate or can they be trained? How does the experience of the emotions change over time? In addition to exploring the centrality of feeling to Victorian conceptions of masculinity and femininity, nationhood and race, and the relationship between society and the individual, and the relationships between individuals and objects, you will also consider the importance of feeling to broader concepts such as freedom and determinism, objectivity and subjectivity. Early classes will concentrate on sympathy, the most important Victorian theory of emotion, in the writing of its best practitioner, George Eliot. The module will then examine the formal and political implications of feeling, and will progress roughly following the organisation of Charles Darwin’s investigation of the emotions in The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). This module on affect will conclude with the ur-text of fin-de-siècle disaffection, Joris-Karl Huysman’s A rebours. Module readings will vary from year to year. The following is intended as a representative selection: • Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (excerpts) • George Eliot, Middlemarch • Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam (excerpts) • John Stuart Mill, Autobiography (excerpts) • George Meredith, Modern Love (excerpts) • Coventry Patmore, The Angel in the House (excerpts) • Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles • H. Rider Haggard, She • Joris-Karl Huysmans, A rebours • Walter Pater, The Renaissance (excerpts)

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • lectures • seminars • private consultation • feedback on written work Learning activities include • reading texts and engaging with other cultural productions • seminar discussion • textual analysis • writing essays This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Follow-up work9
Wider reading or practice9
Completion of assessment task49
Preparation for scheduled sessions47
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

D. A. Miller (1981). Narrative and Its Discontents. 

Roland Barthes (1975). The Pleasure of the Text. 

Sharon Marcus (2007). Between Women. 

Philip Fisher (2003). Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. 

Mary Ann O'Farrell (1997). Telling Complexions. 

Rachael Ablow (ed.) (2010). The Feeling of Reading. 

Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds.) (2010). The Affect Theory Reader. 

Catherine Belsey (1994). Desire. 

Barbara Hardy (1985). Forms of Feeling in Victorian Fiction. 

Justine Murison (2011). The Politics of Anxiety in Nineteenth-century American Literature. 

Philip Fisher (2002). The Vehement Passions. 

Julie-Marie Strange (2005). Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914. 

Jonah Siegel (2000). Desire and Excess. 

Martha Nussbaum (2001). Upheavals of Thought. 

Michael B (2000). Sentimentalism, Ethics and the Culture of Feeling. 

Sianne Ngai (2005). Ugly Feelings. 

Philip Davis (2000). Victorian Realist Prose and Sentimentality. Rereading Victorian Fiction. .

Brigid Lowe (2007). Victorian Fiction and the Insights of Sympathy. 

Peter Brooks (1984). Reading for the Plot. 

Lauren Berlant (2011). Cruel Optimism. 

Sophie Ratcliffe (2008). On Sympathy. 

Elizabeth A. Grosz (1994). Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. 

Patricia Meyer Spacks (1995). Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind. 

Valentine Cunningham (2011). Fleshly Feelings. Victorian Poetry Now. .

W. I. Miller (1997). The Anatomy of Disgust. 

Jenny Bourne-Taylor and Sally Shuttleworth (eds) (1998). Embodied Selves. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 65%
Essay  (1500 words) 35%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Costs associated with this module will not exceed £90

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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