Themes

From Romantic poetry to Gothic horror, from depictions of poverty and industrialisation to portrayals of the middle classes, and from crime fiction to fin de siècle decadence: the literary works of the Romantic and Victorian periods offer a wealth of topics to explore.

Crop of handwritten lines from Coleridge's Kubla Khan manuscript

Romanticism

How did the Romantic poets explore landscape, class, radicalism and the sublime?

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Illustration of a vampire holding on to a fainting woman

The Gothic

What are the key motifs of Gothic literature and how do these works reflect the contexts in which the genre emerged and evolved?

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Chapbook illustration from Little Red Riding Hood, showing the wolf pounced on the grandmother, who is in bed and has her arms raised in fright

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

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Crop of illustrated newspaper coverage of the Jack the Ripper murders

Crime and crime fiction

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

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Crop of Charles Booth London map, showing streets marked in different colours and shades

London

How did the writers of this period portray our iconic capital city?

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Illustration of women browsing in a bookshop, one is being served by a man behind the counter. A man is on a ladder in the  background, retrieving a book from the wall

The novel 1780–1832

From the origins of the Gothic to depictions of the emerging middle classes, what are the key characteristics of late 18th- and early 19th-century literature?

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Crop of front cover to one of Charles Dickens's installments, with illustations of a figure rowing on a river at night, a woman and a man who has a prosthetic hand in the form of a hook

The novel 1832–1880

How did the writers of this period incorporate fantasy, realism, sensationalism, and social commentary into their work?

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Crop of a front cover for The Yellow Book, featuring an illustration of a masked man and woman, drawn by Aubrey Beardsley

Fin de siècle

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

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Details from title page to Goblin Market and other poems by Christina Rossetti, featuring an illustration of the two sisters holding each other while sleeping and an inset image of three goblin men carrying baskets

Victorian poetry

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

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Illustration of a man standing on the back of two horses within a theatre audiotorium, with an orchestra in the background

Popular culture

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

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Photograph of people stood in a crowd within a narrow alley

Poverty and the working classes

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

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Crop of an illustration of the Peterloo Massacre, showing yeomanry charging through the crowd and figures standing on a stage with banners

Power and politics

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

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Crop of text on a theatre bill

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence literature and reading habits during this period?

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Cropped illustration of a man performing a procedure on a sheep's leg and frog

Technology and science

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

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Cropped illustration of two Victorian women and a child, dressed in bonnets and large extravagent skirts

The middle classes

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

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Cropped illustration showing a form of space ship flying through the night sky, surrounded by stars and the sun or a flaming planet

Visions of the future

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

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Cropped illustration of a woman facing away, holding the handlebars of a bicycle

Gender and sexuality

How did the literature of this period portray and challenge traditional gender roles?

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