Accueil > Grains of truth in the wildest fable': the Gothic-Realist hesitation in British Victorian Culture


Type d'enseignement : Elective

Semester : Spring 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

The quotation here comes from Jane Eyre (1848) by Charlotte Brontë, from chapter 15. The eponymous heroine Jane has just saved her employer Rochester from death by fire in his own bed, a fire at this point only of mysterious origin. Jane was awoken by 'a demoniac laugh—low, suppressed, and deep', by 'goblin laughter', by 'something' that 'gurgled and moaned'. Despite the hints of the supernatural here, however—whilst avoiding too blatant a spoiler for future students of this module—the explanation will turn out to be sensational enough but anchored in the real. And this is a characteristic blend in an entire vein of Victorian literature and the Victorian imagination, fascinated by the dual poles of on the one hand the positivist empiricism linked to the scientific and industrial revolutions of the period; and on the other hand a shadowy, murky, anti-rational world of fear, sensation and symbolism, in many ways the echo of pre-Freudian intuitions of a darker inner self, or the transposition of anxieties linked to a dim consciousness of class violence. Jane Eyre is thus highly representative of the period's fiction in its paradoxical combination of the Gothic with themes including class, exploitation, education, feminism, and a feminism which asserts itself partly through the very rationalism of the heroine. Gothic had of course existed for over a hundred years by the time Jane Eyre was published, and it is widely considered to have been the ancestor of the detective novel, with its hero, or more often heroine, gradually dragged through layers of mystery towards the truth. It is unsurprising, then, by the time of Jane Eyre, to have Gothic and embryonic detective genre combined, and by the time of Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles at the very end of Victoria's reign, to have the two genres in a quasi-fusional state. Starting with a pre-Victorian Gothic classic, this module seeks to investigate the generic codes and social and political contexts of this hybrid fiction through the study of four major works, accompanied by an on-line handbook of shorter complementary material from the period or by specialists of the field.


SMITH, Matthew (Lecturer at Université de Lorraine)

Pedagogical format

I will occasionally give short presentations in class to move things along, but the bulk of class format will be based on student participation. It should be stressed than in-class participation constitutes a fifth of the final grade, and that although I believe assessment of this sort should be carried out in a cautious but positive spirit, only participation that visibly draws on thorough reading work will be rewarded with the highest grades. Quality of participation is as important and perhaps even more important than quantity. This does not mean that everything each student says should be a maximum-stakes rhetorical performance—that would be very stressful for everybody! Sometimes thinking out loud and trying to ask the right questions is also important in the construction of knowledge. What I would insist upon is the importance of fully engaging with the course material.

Course validation

Quality of in-class participation based on reading of course material 20% ; mid-term short writing exercise in class (week 5) 20% ; 2000 word assignment on a subject related to class material, chosen by yourself in agreement with me by week 5 and to be handed in in week 9 35% ; final 2-hour exam in class in week 12, consisting in an essay drawing on the whole of the course material, with a choice between questions 25%.

Required reading

  • Anne Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794; Oxford English Classics, 2008)
  • Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1848; Oxford English Classics, 2008)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886; Oxford English Classics, 2008)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902; Oxford English Classics, 2008)