LIT242 : The Victorian Utopia

Convenor(s): Dr Marcus Waithe


Please note: This module may or may not run in any given semester. Please check with the tutor.

General Information

Utopian fables and dreams of the earthly paradise were a preoccupation for many Victorian writers (among them, Charles Kingsley, William Morris and H.G. Wells). Literary utopias evoked the optimism and the anxieties of the age, and they provided a crucial imaginative space where narrative fiction could mingle freely with political and philosophical speculation. Some were socialist in character, some Christian, and some based on the promise of technological advance. All were vitally concerned with the central problems of existence: with love, work, happiness, pain, and death. This module provides a grounding in the development of utopian fiction and thought in the period, and explores the reasons for its rise to prominence among the Victorians.


Teaching is delivered via two-weekly one-hour seminars, over eleven weeks.  Drawing on specialist knowledge, the tutor will offer structured introductions to subject matter in pursuit of outcome a) and outcome d) in one of these sessions.  These would aim to reinforce historical knowledge and encourage methodological reflection.  In all other respects, the seminars shall be discussion led. They will provide structure and direction for students’ own reading and assessment preparation, and will introduce the aims and promote the outcomes of the course in detail.  Each discussion session will commence with a student presentation, topics being assigned at the start of term.  Presentations serve to further outcome c) Improved skills of criticism and oral expression (above) and aim e) (in so far as they stimulate research and independent thought prior to the final written assessment).  Building on material outlined during the presentation, and on the text under discussion, seminars provide a forum for open debate, as well as for closer forms of scrutiny guided by the tutor.  The remaining 178 hours of study for this module are to be divided between seminar preparation (directed reading) and individual research.


Formal assessment will be based on two essays (one 1,500 words, worth 40% of the module mark, one 2,500 words, worth 60% of the module mark), in which students will be expected to demonstrate a sophisticated critical engagement with and thematic and stylistic analysis of the specific texts chosen for study, and to relate their discussions to the historical and cultural contexts established through seminar discussion and individual research. Essay topics appropriate to the level of the course will be set by the tutor.

Outcomes: this major assessment will test the learning outcomes of the module. Students will need to demonstrate understanding of Victorian utopianism, a working knowledge of the texts covered on the module, a capacity for research (including identification and use of appropriate secondary materials), and a suitable command of academic writing (including persuasive argumentation, essay structure, and appropriate use and acknowledgement of secondary sources). 

Contact Details

Dr Marcus Waithe

Information last changed: Monday 10th of August 2015 :: 12:40:17 PM (BST)


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