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The University of Southampton

ENGL3056 Victorian Bestsellers

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Introduce you to key aspects of Victorian culture outside the literary canon and the borders of the UK • Introduce you to globally important developments in the Victorian creative and technical industries • Introduce you to ways of thinking theoretically about consumer culture, innovation, and the bestseller phenomenon • Provide you with an opportunity to explore interactive websites and online primary materials • Encourage you to work independently and carry out original research • Broaden your knowledge of nineteenth-century culture, history and politics • Help prepare you for dissertation research

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Recent debates around the complexities of the terms ‘Victorian’ and ‘bestseller’
  • The ways in which science, technology, religion, politics, art and consumer culture interacted in and across this period
  • The study of a range of material objects as cultural artefacts
  • The usefulness (and limitations) of web-based resources for historical research
  • Changes in the approach to and uses of consumer items – including literature – across space and time in the period 1800-1914
  • Changes in the literary marketplace in the period 1800-1914
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Think holistically about material culture beyond the literary in a given historical period
  • Reflect on key concepts and recent developments in the areas of book, theatre, film and social history and popular culture
  • Analyse works of fiction and other cultural artefacts in the contexts of their production and reception
  • Re-evaluate the notions of national and period-specific cultural productions in relation to trans- national and cross-media communication networks
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Write a clear, concise report on your web searches
  • Critically evaluate a particular work or cultural practice
  • Deliver an oral presentation as part of a team
  • Manage your time effectively during the process of primary research and writing up
  • Formulate an effective research question
  • Engage in self-managed research
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work effectively and critically in web-based resources
  • Use web-based resources in conjunction with other sources of evidence
  • Produce historically-grounded original analyses of material objects and cultural practices from the past


The term ‘bestseller’ was coined by a journalist in the United States in the 1880s, and used to describe a specifically literary phenomenon, but it has since been extended culturally and critically to encompass a wide range of activities and products. Victorians, comprising the world’s first capitalist economy, made, bought and sold a vast range of items, ideas and inventions globally. Likewise, while the term ‘Victorian’ notionally applies to the period of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) in the United Kingdom, even during the monarch’s own time the influences, ideologies and products created and promulgated by her subjects extended far beyond the boundaries of Great Britain and Ireland, and even after her death the ideas and creations of the ‘Victorian period’ lived on in myriad popular and widely circulated forms. This module will encourage you to investigate both the terms presented in its title. In addition to some of the literary bestsellers of the Victorian period – which range from Dickens, drama and poetry to the tabloid newspaper - you will get the opportunity to examine the range and influence of some other nineteenth-century ‘bestsellers’ in areas which may include art, religion, sex, technology, crime, science, and politics both within and outside the UK. You will be introduced to some of the key bestsellers which lasted well beyond the end of the century, and some which did not, and explore some of the theories that seek to explain why. Using texts and other artefacts from the period and some of the available online resources for Victorian Studies you will produce an original piece of research which will be especially useful as training for your dissertation in Semester 2, and will help to pave the way for those of you wishing to go on to postgraduate study afterwards

Special Features

The weekly lectures and seminars will be delivered and taught by a range of experts on specific topics, and while the exact components of these will vary year-on-year according to staff availability, the regular lectures and seminars on Victorian bestselling literature delivered by the module convenor will also be supplemented by weeks on some or all of the following topics: poetry, drama, journalism, sex, science, money, technology, religion, law, crime. On occasion outside experts such as archivists or exhibition curators will be invited to give specialist talks in the lecture slots. NOTE: where no edition is specified, this is because the work is out of print. In such cases you should purchase an old cheap edition from a second hand dealer such as ABE Books (most available for a few pounds or less, thanks to their status as mass-produced bestsellers of the past) or download the book from one of several free online sources recommended by your tutor. The range of editions – old, new, electronic, scholarly and otherwise – and their textual and material variants will be used as one of the foci for seminar discussion.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• Lectures given by a range of experts • Tutor-led seminar discussion • Small group work • Group presentations 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.

Wider reading or practice20
Follow-up work20
Completion of assessment task100
Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Clive Bloom (2002). Bestsellers: Popular Fiction since 1900. 

Mrs Humphry Ward (1888). Robert Elsmere. 

David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery (eds.) (2003). The Book History Reader. 

Selections from G.W. M.Reynolds et al, The Mysteries of London (1st installment1844). Selections

Marie Corelli (1886). A Romance of Two Worlds. 

Hall Caine (2009). The Manxman , ed. David MacWilliams. 

A.E.Housman (2005). â€˜A Shropshire Lad’, in Collected Poems, introduction by Michael Irwin. 

Richard Altick (1986). Evil Encounters: Two Victorian Sensations. 

Rudyard Kipling, selected poems (1890s); selections from the Just-So Stories (1902). Selections

Selected editions of The Times (1840s), the Daily Mail (1896), the Cornhill (1860s), Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1890s), Boy’s Own (1878), Girl’s Own (1880), Cassell’s Family Magazine (1874) and Punch (1800s- 1900s). Selections

Thomas Carlyle (1989). â€˜On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History’, in Six Lectures. 

David Trotter (1993). The English Novel in History 1895-1920. 

Richard Altick (1957). The English Common Reader 1800-1900. 

Selections from Samuel Smiles, Self-Help (1859), Character (1871), Thrift (1875), Duty (1880), Life and Labour (1887). Selections

Sections from the King James Bible (the world’s best-selling book and crucial in 19th-century Britain) John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, but massively reprinted in the Victorian era for a range of niche markets). Selections

Laurel Brake, Bill Bell and David Finkelstein eds. (2001). Nineteenth-Century Media and the Construction of Identities. 

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson (2008). â€˜Charge of the Light Brigade’ in The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, introduction by Karen Hodder. 

Laurel Brake, Marysa Demoor eds. (2009). The Lure of Illustration in the Nineteenth Century. 

Mary Poovey (1988). Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England. 

Shafquat Towheed, Ros Crone and Katie Halsey (eds.) (2010). The History of Reading. 

George du Maurier (1995). Trilby, ed. Elaine Showalter. 

Eric Hobsbawm (1990). Nations and Nationalism since 1780. 

John Ruskin (2003). The Stones of Venice, Vol. 1, 2nd edition (abridged), ed. J.G Links. 

Robert Louis Stevenson (2007). Treasure Island, ed. Emma Letley. 

Charles Dickens (2000). The Pickwick Papers, ed. Mark Wormald. 

Mary Poovey (2008). Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in 18th and 19th-century Britain. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe (2005). Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Jean Fagin Yellin. 

Selections from Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys (1908). Selections

Laurel Brake (2001). Print in Transition 1850-1910: Studies in Media and Book History. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 50%
Timed Assignment  () 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 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

Many of the module texts are available free online; costs of others 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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