Technology and science

The 19th century saw the invention of a number of ground-breaking technologies, together with paradigm shifts in scientific understanding. How did 19th-century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?
Railways in Victorian fiction

Railways in Victorian fiction

Article by:
John Mullan

The first railway line in Britain opened in 1830, transforming how the public travelled and communicated – and read fiction. Focusing on the work of Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and George Eliot, Professor John Mullan explores the influence of the railway on Victorian novels.

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The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Article by:
Sharon Ruston

Professor Sharon Ruston surveys the scientific background to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, considering contemporary investigations into resuscitation, galvanism and the possibility of states between life and death.

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John Keats, Poet-Physician

John Keats, poet-physician

Article by:
Sharon Ruston

Keats trained as an apothecary and a surgeon before deciding to dedicate himself to poetry. Professor Sharon Ruston considers how his medical background influenced his writing.

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Representations of drugs in 19th-century literature

Representations of drugs in 19th-century literature

Article by:
Sharon Ruston

Opium was widely available in the 19th century, sold by barbers, tobacconists and stationers. Writers including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens all used the drug, for pleasure or as medicine. Professor Sharon Ruston explores how drugs provided both inspiration and subject matter for the literature of the period.

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Post Darwin: social Darwinism, degeneration, eugenics

Post Darwin: social Darwinism, degeneration, eugenics

Article by:
Carolyn Burdett

Dr Carolyn Burdett explores how Victorian thinkers used Darwin's theory of evolution in forming their own social, economic and racial theories, thereby extending Darwin's influence far beyond its original sphere.

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Darwin and the theory of evolution

Darwin and the theory of evolution

Article by:
Carolyn Burdett

Charles Darwin’s ideas had a profound impact on the understanding of human life. Carolyn Burdett looks at the way he developed his theory of evolution, and how it became part of the Victorian imagination.

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The Condition of England novel

The Condition of England novel

Article by:
Sophie Ratcliffe

Writers such as Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë illuminated contemporary social problems through detailed descriptions of poverty and inequality. Dr Sophie Ratcliffe considers how the Condition of England novel portrayed 19th-century society, and the extent of its calls for reform.

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The rise of technology and industry

The rise of technology and industry

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard considers how the development of technology and industry affected all areas of 19th-century life and work.

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The built environment

The built environment

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard examines how industrialisation altered the building of cities and affected the different social classes living within them.

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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?

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?

Gender and sexuality

How were gender roles embedded in the literature of the period and were they ever subverted?