Skip to main content


Hardy and Women Who Did: the Coming of Modernity (EAS3100)

30 credits

The module explores the relationship of the late Victorians to modernity, revisiting a time of dynamic social transformation, new uses and misuses of science and technology, and heightened self-consciousness. On both sides of the Atlantic new ideas and uncertainties were emerging. Through decolonial and intersectional approaches we will address the following questions and more, many of which were posed at the time. What constituted the nature of woman? What was the relationship of women to men, to education, labour and citizenship? What were the causes of poverty? And what role might fiction have to play in disseminating new ideas? 

We will work with novels, short stories, poems, letters, including the newly launched Phase One of the Thomas Hardy’s Global Correspondents project housed at Exeter, illustrations and other material from the Victorian periodical press, including satirical cartoons, drawing on material from Special Collections. We will consider issues of class, urbanisation and sexual identity, imperialism, fears of racial degeneration and the intersection of debates on gender with imperial discourses. We will also consider ways in which new ideas about human-animal relations entered fiction, and look at Hardy's engagement with environmental issues. Through the exploration of new literary forms, and the rise of the short story, we will ask how important biography and autobiography are to our reading of literary texts, and explore late-Victorian views as to the social value and function of fiction. Students will also have the the opportunity to engage actively and productively with the digital world, for example by drawing on the Thomas Hardy’s Global Correspondents project (which will form part of assessment 2), offering comments or suggesting annotations to the letters and evaluating, improving or writing Wikipedia entries (see

Authors covered include Hardy, George Gissing and George Moore and bestselling New Woman writers Sarah Grand (who visited Hardy) Mona Caird (who was friends with Hardy), George Egerton (who corresponded with Hardy) Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin. We will also look at writing by Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, Ruskin and Margaret Oliphant.