Gender and sexuality

From marriage and sexuality to education and work, how were gender roles defined in the 19th century, and how were they represented in the literature of the period?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Woman Question

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Woman Question

Article by:
Simon Avery

Dr Simon Avery considers how Elizabeth Barrett Browning used poetry to explore and challenge traditional Victorian roles for women, assessing the early influences on her work and thought.

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Gender roles in the 19th century

Gender roles in the 19th century

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes

From marriage and sexuality to education and rights, Professor Kathryn Hughes looks at attitudes towards gender in 19th-century Britain.

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Prostitution

Prostitution

Article by:
Judith Flanders

What was the place of prostitution in 19th-century society? Judith Flanders looks at documents and publications that provide an insight into attitudes towards the profession.

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Jane Eyre and the 19th-century woman

Jane Eyre and the 19th-century woman

Article by:
Sally Shuttleworth

Professor Sally Shuttleworth explores how Charlotte Brontë challenges 19th-century conceptions of appropriate female behaviour through the creation of a heroine who works, demands respect and combines self-control with passion and rebellion.

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The figure of the governess

The figure of the governess

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes

From Jane Eyre to Vanity Fair, the governess is a familiar figure in Victorian literature. She is also a strange one: not part of the family, yet not quite an ordinary servant. Kathryn Hughes focuses on the role and status of the governess in 19th century society.

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Perversion and degeneracy in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Perversion and degeneracy in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

Many reviewers denounced Oscar Wilde’s novel as perverse and immoral. Roger Luckhurst explores the work’s sexual and moral ambiguities.

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Daughters of Decadence: The New Woman in the Victorian fin de siècle

Daughters of Decadence: The New Woman in the Victorian fin de siècle

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Free-spirited and independent, educated and uninterested in marriage and children, the figure of the New Woman threatened conventional ideas about ideal Victorian womanhood. Greg Buzwell explores the place of the New Woman - by turns comical, dangerous and inspirational - in journalism and in fiction by writers such as Thomas Hardy, George Gissing and Sarah Grand.

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Victorian sexualities

Victorian sexualities

Article by:
Holly Furneaux

How repressed were the Victorians? Dr Holly Furneaux challenges assumptions about Victorian attitudes towards sex, considering how theorists such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler have provided new ways of understanding sex and sexuality in the period.

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Christina Rossetti: Gender and Power

Article by:
Simon Avery

The Victorian period witnessed massive changes in thinking about women’s roles in society. Dr Simon Avery asks how Christina Rossetti's poetry sits within this context, looking at her representations of oppression, female identity, marriage and the play of power between men and women.

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Further themes

Romanticism

What inspired the iconic poetry of the Romantic period?

The Gothic

What characterises Gothic literature and what does it reveal about the periods in which it was written?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

The novel 1780-1832

From Georgian gentry to Gothic horror, what characterised the literature of this period?

The novel 1832 - 1880

How did the iconic writers of this period experiment with fantasy, sensationalism, realism and social commentary?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Popular culture

From music hall to pleasure gardens, explore the extraordinary range of entertainments on offer in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

Poverty and the working classes

How did Victorian writers respond to the shocking inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence the literature people read?

Technology and science

How did 19th century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

The middle classes

How were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored in the literature of the period?

Visions of the future

How did the 19th-century literature reflect contemporary fears of social, political and technological change?