By the end of the course:
- You will have deepened your knowledge of nineteenth-century fiction beyond the canonical, and be able to respond critically to a variety of popular sensation novels from the 1860s.
- You will possess the ability to situate these texts firmly in relation to both the social and cultural context of the 1860s and to developments in nineteenth-century publishing history that helped encourage the rise of the sensation novel.
- You will have developed your understanding of the key current academic debates surrounding sensation fiction, and will be able to apply this understanding to your analysis of the course novels.
- You will be able to reflect on broader theoretical discussions about the shifting nature of literary reputations, whether of literary genres like the sensation novel or individual authors, and apply these ideas in a research presentation on a neglected sensation author.
- You will have improved your abilities in contextualising and analysing literary texts and producing extended arguments about them by completing a final 3000-3500 word essay.
Sensation fiction was a popular genre that burst onto the literary scene in the early 1860s. One critic at the time claimed that it had ‘succeeded in making the literature of the Kitchen the favourite reading of the Drawing room’, and murder, bigamy and spectacular plots all played important roles in its most significant examples. In this course, we will examine a representative selection of some of the most shocking sensation novels from the 1860s. Our discussions will focus on a diverse range of key practitioners of the genre, including Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Wilkie Collins, Florence Marryat and Charles Reade. This fiction will be considered in the first instance in relation to the culture of sensationalism that dominated the 1860s, and provoked the so-called ‘sensation debate’ in the press. The course also examines the ways in which sensation fiction emerged in response to changes in nineteenth-century print culture, such as the development of a mass audience and the rise of cheap, often serial, publications. Students will be encouraged to think about the extent to which these developments in the literary marketplace reflected broader European trends and how they might relate to the nature of popular fiction and its publishing contexts now. We will consider, finally, how the sensation novel was adapted and received in its own time, and how it has fared amongst academic critics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. More generally, the course aims to challenge fixed assumptions about literary value and explore the rewards and challenges of studying popular, non-canonical fiction such as the sensation novel in a university setting.|