Dickens and the Material Culture of the Victorian Novel - EN836

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
View Timetable
7 30 (15) PROF C Waters







Dickens's engagement with the material culture of his age has long been recognised by readers and critics. In her influential analysis of the English novel’s form and function in 1953, Dorothy Van Ghent identified his characteristic 'transposition of attributes’ as symptomatic of a world in which ‘the qualities of things and people were reversed’: ‘people were becoming things, and things ... were becoming more important than people.’ At the same time, critics have long noted the way in which Victorian novelists have used ‘things’ to achieve that ‘solidity of specification’ associated by Henry James with narrative realism. More recently, following on from the sesqui-centenary of the Great Exhibition in 2001, much study has been devoted to the so-called Victorian ‘exhibitionary complex’ and the emergence of ‘thing theory’ has brought new attention to what objects can tell us about the culture and society of the Victorians and their developing response to modernity. This module explores the engagement of selected mid-century fiction and journalism with Victorian material culture and introduces students to some of the key works in this developing field. It will examine the materiality not only in but of these texts; the implications of serialisation; the relationship between literature and journalism; and, through a visit to one of the Dickens Museums (in Kent or in London), some consideration of what its objects and artefacts may contribute to an understanding of Dickens and Victorian culture.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 280
Total Study Hours: 300


Spring term 2019/20

Method of assessment

Essay (5,000 words) – 100%

Indicative reading

Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually:

Any edition of the following:
Braddon, Mary. Lady Audley's Secret
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times
Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend
Gaskell, Elizabeth. Cranford
Household Words – selected journalism
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate an advanced knowledge of some of the ways in which Victorian material culture is represented in the fiction of Dickens and other Victorian novelists;

2. Demonstrate a knowledge of the various modes of publication of selected Victorian novels;

3. Demonstrate an understanding of the implications of material form for the production and consumption of Victorian fiction, including the reading of serialised fiction as part of the periodical print media;

4. Demonstrate a developing understanding of, and capacity to employ, relevant critical and theoretical approaches to the study of material culture and its objects in relation to literary texts;

5. Demonstrate an awareness of the historical development of the discipline of English Literature and its methods;

6. Demonstrate an understanding of the ongoing relevance of literary study for the social and cultural development of the modern world;

7. Demonstrate advanced skills in the analysis, research and evaluation of literary texts, using relevant primary and secondary resources, and will have demonstrated competence in critically evaluating such research tools;

8. Make extensive use of written communication skills in presenting well-reasoned and well expressed arguments and observations in essays and seminars;

9. Demonstrate a wide range of academic skills that facilitate problem solving and independent learning.


This module cannot be condoned or compensated for MA in Dickens and Victorian Culture students

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.