Taught course

English Literature: Victorian Literature

University of Glasgow · School of Critical Studies

Entry requirements

We normally expect applicants to have obtained a 2.1 Honours degree or equivalent qualification (for example, GPA 3.0 or above) in English Literature or a relevant subject. We also require a sample of written work (up to around 3,000 words), a short statement of around 500 words outlining your interest in the programme, and at least one academic reference. Further information regarding academic entry requirements: student.recruitment@glasgow.ac.uk

Months of entry


Course content

This programme welcomes students to a lively intellectual and cultural scene. You will study with a group of world-class Victorianists whose expertise ranges across many aspects of literature and culture, and you’ll be able to draw on the extraordinary resources of Glasgow’s museums and libraries.

Why Glasgow

  • Our library has outstanding holdings in Victorian primary and critical sources, and Glasgow has a wonderful Victorian heritage: this makes the city a fantastic place to be studying the period’s literature and culture.
  • We have an international reputation for research and teaching in Victorian literature.

Programme Structure

The programme involves taught sessions over two ten-week teaching periods, plus a period of research and writing over the summer. You will study core and optional courses, and undertake supervised study of a specialised topic of your choice, researching and writing a 15,000 word dissertation.

You can choose optional courses from the range of Victorianist subjects; or, with the convenors’ permission, you may select from any MLitt course offered in the College of Arts.

Alongside the core and optional courses, you will take a research training course which will prepare you to work on your dissertation and to prepare a proposal and funding application for PhD work, should you choose to pursue doctoral research.

In conjunction with the core courses we also offer an exciting series of workshops tailored to research on Victorian topics, including tours of Glasgow University’s Special Collections, workshops on electronic resources, and field trips to sites of special interest such as the Murray Collection in the National Library of Scotland, Robert Owens’ New Lanark, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

You will have the opportunity to meet and learn from visiting scholars from the UK, Europe and the United States. In recent years, Victorianist visitors have included John Bowen, Matthew Campbell, Kate Flint, Ann Heilmann, Antonija Primorac, Herbert Tucker and Julian Wolfreys.

The programme is made up of three components:

  • Core courses: taught over two ten-week teaching periods, from October to December and January to March.
  • Optional courses: also taught in ten-week blocks. Full-time students usually study one topic course in each semester.
  • A dissertation: written during the final phase of the course, from April to September.

Core courses

Our core courses introduce you to the different types of writing that developed across the Victorian period, and then encourage you to see how these engage with various ‘historical flashpoints’, such as changes in property law, sexual behaviour, science and technology, and imperial government.

Core course 1: Genres and Canons

The first semester’s core course will introduce you to different types of writing that circulated in Victorian literary culture. We begin with a selection of extracts from texts published during and after the Victorian period. We will consider how these seek to characterise the age - its writing, its values, trends, cultures and reputation. We will use these to debate the viability of 'Victorian' as a literary period. From here we go on to look at some of the representative prose, poetry and dramatic modes from the periodthinking about how Victorian writers tested and interrogated the potential in traditional forms, and how they developed new and compelling forms of their own.

Core course 2: Victorian Literary History

Historical knowledge is a crucial tool in understanding any literary text, whether at the stage of first publication or in the shifting processes of its reception and interpretation. Following on the first semester’s exploration of writing types, Core Course 2 identifies significant 'historical flashpoints' from across the Victorian period, and selects clusters of texts that respond to particular events or their legacy and consequences. You will be encouraged to explore how different types of writing stage different responses to these significant events and developments.


For each core course, you will write a mid-term exercise and a 6000 word essay on a topic of your choice. You will usually also be asked to give an unassessed oral presentation.

Option courses

We offer a range of option courses. Not all are available every year as two are offered in each term. With permission from the relevant convenors, you may choose relevant courses from other taught Masters in the College of Arts, including from Modernities: Literature, Theory and Culture, American Studies, and Religion, Theology and Culture.

Explaining Change: Science & Literary Culture, 1830-1880

We misread nineteenth-century literature if we isolate it from other contemporary discourses competing for cultural authority. Of these discourses the one that has featured most productively in recent critical debate is scientific writing. This course will introduce you to some of the crucial areas in the relationship of literature and science from around 1830 to 1880, focusing on attempts to explain how change happens in the world and in the individual life. Writers studied will include Darwin, Eliot, Faraday, Tennyson, Eliot and Conan Doyle. No scientific knowledge will be assumed: we will read literary and scientific texts side by side to trace the movements of ideas, words and images across and between the disciplines.

Embodiments: Literature and Medicine, 1750-1900

‘Embodiments’ aims to introduce you to a wider historical perspective by moving from the mid-eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. This course explores critical approaches and theoretical models relevant to literary representations of embodiment and related medical discourses, and to encourage you to engage in independent interdisciplinary research in the fields of literature and medicine, as well as introducing you to the growing field of disability studies. By considering a wide range of texts from a variety of different genres, you will learn to identify and examine shifts in medical discourse across time and the changing ways in which literary and medical writers interact as medicine becomes a more professionalized and specialized discourse. The course highlights both change and continuity and by including texts from different literary ‘periods’ it also raises questions about periodization: is ‘Romantic’ medicine different from ‘Victorian’ medicine, and is the body read and interpreted in different ways within different historical contexts? The course additionally raises important questions about gender, sexuality, race and class and their perceived relations to the pathologized body. Topics that we will focus on include vitalism, nervous sensibility, corpses and body-snatching, disability and deformity, contagious diseases, sensationalism, insanity and hysteria.


You will be able to trace literary engagement with the Victorian novel (and other genres) from postmodernist and feminist reworkings in the 1960s and 1970s, to queer rewritings in the early twenty-first century and the current vogue for detective fiction, romance novels and fantasy fiction set in Victorian times. We will also consider the emerging genre of 'steampunk' and its roots in the science fiction and utopian/dystopian works of the late nineteenth century, plus the vital role of Neo-Victorianism in recent developments in children's and young adult fiction, as well in award-winning and influential graphic novels, films and other media. You will be encouraged to explore further aspects of popular culture (for instance television, music, fashion and burlesque) for themselves. Uniquely on the Victorian MLitt, you have the option to produce a piece of creative writing or a project in other media (a website, for example), for your final assessment should you wish to do so.

We have built up a collection of over one hundred films, novels and graphic novels in this field, which is reserved for the use of students on the Victorian MLitt.

Victorian Séance: The Literary Occulture of Nineteenth-Century Britain

This course examines the literary “occulture” of Victorian Britain, focusing on the dialogue between literature, spiritualism, and occultism in the period. We will interrogate the aesthetic, cultural, and political implications of Victorian representations of the supernatural through an investigation of Victorian ghost stories, spiritualist fiction, the occult periodical press, Theosophical treatises, imperial supernatural romances, and the occult periodical press. We will focus particularly on how writers, whether secular skeptics or practicing occultists, deployed changing concepts of the supernatural to raise questions about modernity’s relationship with the pre-industrial past, the ethics of colonialism, the nature of public sphere, secularization and the decline of faith, gender, and the growing cultural authority of science. In addressing these issues, the seminar will be of interest to both students interested in Victorian occult writing and to those drawn to the wider issues of genre, empire, religion, science, and cultural capital in the nineteenth century.

Writing Empire

Empire was at the heart of Victorian culture, and Britain was shaped by its attempts to ‘paint the map red.’ This course examines a wide range of texts relating to empire, from the obvious—Kipling and Haggard—to missionary narratives and poems written in Canada, India and Australia. We make extensive use of the materials in Special Collections ranging from children’s literature to our extensive collection of travel narratives.

Fictions of Adultery

Most literary study of adultery focuses upon the European novel, but there is a wealth of writing on adultery and related topics in English that has been neglected. This course examines various kinds of representation of adultery in English during the nineteenth century, from newspaper reports, legal debates and psychology to novels poems and plays. As well as considering the effects of adultery on Victorian forms and genres, it will attempt to discover the sources of critical neglect. It will both trace the ways in which adultery has been silenced in public debate and examine the ways in which adultery has been sustained within popular consciousness. With permission from the relevant convenors, you may choose relevant courses from other taught Masters in the College of Arts, including from Modernities: Literature, Theory and Culture, American Studies, and Religion, Theology and Culture.


Option courses will usually require you to give an oral presentation, submit a mid-term exercise and write a 5000 word essay on a topic of your choice.


The dissertation is your opportunity to explore your own specialist interest in Victorian literature and to demonstrate the research and writing skills you have developed during the course. With the advice of your supervisor you will develop a topic, undertake primary and secondary research, and write a 15,000 word dissertation which you will submit in September.

Teaching methods

Teaching will be by a combination of 90-minute seminars for the core and option courses and 45-minute supervisions for the dissertation. You will also be given the opportunity to attend relevant lectures in the undergraduate programme, particularly where your first degree has not given you a wide background in Victorian literature. There may be occasional workshops on humanities computing in the STELLA laboratory. The teaching sessions will be designed throughout to maximise student involvement, and there will be a range of opportunities for informal contact among staff and students outside teaching hours.

Information for international students

IELTS:overall score 7.0; no sub-test less than 7.0. ibTOEFL: 92; no sub-test less than 22 with Speaking no less than 23. CAE: 185; no sub-test less than 185 CPE: 185; no sub-test less than 185. PTE Academic: 68; minimum 60 in writing

Fees and funding

UK students
International students


Qualification and course duration


full time
12 months
part time
24 months

Course contact details

Prof Mary-Ellis Gibson