LIT266 : Secrets and Lies: Victorian Life-Writing

Convener(s): Dr Amber Regis


General Information

How do lives become stories? How is the telling of life-stories shaped by history, society and culture? This module interrogates life-writing traditions across the long nineteenth century, from Romantic autobiography-in-verse to the “new” biography of the Bloomsbury Group and Modernism. Students will consider the anxieties raised by life-writing and its troublesome relationship to truth and public exposure, secrecy, lies and censorship. Major works, including Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë, will be read alongside more unusual, exceptional forms—such as working-class autobiography, prison-writing, homosexual confession, and the biography of a dog. Students will explore a range of formal and thematic strategies at work in nineteenth-century life-writing, relating these to contemporary historical and cultural debates. These will include: sexual identity and morality; public and private spheres; health and psychology; constructions of class and gender. This module introduces students to the diverse literary and print culture of the long nineteenth century and encompasses multiple genres: biography, autobiography, essays, poetry and fiction. Writers studied include: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, Elizabeth Gaskell, John Addington Symonds, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and William Wordsworth.


This module is delivered via two sessions each week: the first takes the form of a seminar, and the second takes the form of a workshop led by the tutor. Up to five seminars will be student-led as part of the module assessment. In small groups, students will: 1) introduce a text and topic, 2) set activities for their peers, and 3) manage class discussion.


25%: Student-led seminar (assessed group work). 25%: 1000 word close-reading exercise. 50%: 2000 word essay.

Contact Details

Dr Amber Regis

Information last changed: Tuesday 14th of March 2017 :: 11:10:34 AM (GMT)

Please note: This module may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course convener.


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK