Victorian Aestheticism and Decadence - EN710

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
6 30 (15)




Not available as Wild



This module is an intensive study of the Aesthetic and Decadent movements in late Victorian Britain. The module will proceed thematically rather than chronologically, and will acquaint students with some of the key artistic achievements and critical works associated with both movements, such as Algernon Charles Swinburne's Poems and Ballads (1866), Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). We will also examine some of the manifestos, scandals, satires, and controversies that gave aestheticism and decadence shape in the public imagination, such as James McNeill Whistler’s 1877 libel suit against Ruskin, the notorious periodical The Yellow Book, and the three trials of Oscar Wilde. Students will pay particular attention to the relationship between the literary and visual arts, and develop a sophisticated understanding of the theoretical and imaginative stakes of Victorian aestheticism and decadence, as well as of the social and material contexts from which these movements arose.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 30
Private Study Hours: 270
Total Study Hours: 300

Method of assessment

100% Coursework:

Two pieces of written work of (3,000 words each) (45% each).
Seminar performance (10%)

Indicative reading

Corelli M. (2004) Wormwood: A Drama of Paris. Ed. Kirsten McLeod. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
James, H. (2009). A Portrait of a Lady. Ed. Roger Luckhurst. Oxford: OUP.
Morris, W. (2009) News From Nowhere. Ed. David Leopold. Oxford: OUP.
Pater, W. (2010). Studies in the History of the Renaissance. Ed. Matthew Beaumont. Oxford: OUP.
Wilde, O. (2008). The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ed. Joseph Bristow. Oxford: OUP.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the key themes, styles, and theoretical foundations of Victorian aestheticism and decadence, including their status as transitional stages between Romanticism and Modernism; their preoccupations with formal beauty, standards of taste, ideals of self-cultivation, and the relationship between the visual and literary arts; and their engagements with (and disengagements from) political and religious questions;
2. demonstrate a critical awareness of the social and cultural contexts of Victorian aestheticism and decadence, particularly the scandals and controversies that marked their receptions, their diffusion into popular culture, and their status as counter-cultural movements associated with alternative sexualities, cosmopolitanism, and individualism;
3. demonstrate they have gained the historical knowledge and conceptual tools to reflect critically upon the category of the 'aesthetic' and its implications for their study of literature and their broader engagements with art and culture;
4. demonstrate knowledge and appreciation of Victorian literature beyond canonical novels, and enhanced their skills in analysing a diverse range of texts including poetry, short stories, and critical and philosophical prose;
5. demonstrate their capacity to construct nuanced, fluent, and well-reasoned arguments focussed on the imaginative, intellectual, and cultural dimensions of Victorian aestheticism and decadence.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. demonstrate their ability to synthesise complex information with precision and subtlety;
2. demonstrate their ability to comprehend, analyse, and interrogate a variety of texts and assess the value of diverse critical approaches and ideas;
3. demonstrate improved fluency and confidence in oral communication;
4. demonstrate improved capacity to mount complex arguments lucidly and persuasively in both spoken and written contexts;
5. demonstrate their capacity to carry out independent research.

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