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ENGC21: The Victorian Novel to 1860

Essay Assignments

A printed essay with red commentary from an editor

Essay One: Assignment Paper

Length: 1500 words

Due: Thursday, October 10

Purpose: This essay should demonstrate: 1) A critical, argumentative examination of a course text in terms of the given theme, 2) your use of specific textual evidence to support your claims (i.e., close reading), and 3) your ability to present your ideas clearly and cogently (in terms of grammar, structure, and style).

Instructions: Choose one of our course texts and construct an argument about how the theme of “boundaries” is dealt with in that novel. For instance: How are lines drawn? How is transgression dealt with in the novel? What is at stake in either adhering to or challenging boundaries?

Your discussion should fall clearly into ONE of the following categories:

  • England vs. Other: Discuss the ways in which England (and/or English) is defined — perhaps defended? — against the national, racial, and/or linguistic other.

  • New vs. Old: In what ways did the late Victorian period express anxieties about “age”? This discussion might include questions of change vs. stability, primitive vs. developed, child vs. adult, and so forth.

  • Sane vs. Insane: What does it mean to be mad? Is it a “stable” category (pun intended)? You might also consider thinking about “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” as related to “sanity.”

  • Natural vs. Unnatural (and/or Supernatural): What precisely is meant by “natural,” and how does it relate to the category or categories that oppose it?

Hints: Your essay should avoid simply listing examples of the category/boundary in question, and it should also avoid summary — aim for a unified argument with deliberate analysis. Also, any essay that stands a chance of seeing 80+ will offer clear and specific definitions for the key terms used.

Course Texts:

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Wilkie Collins, Woman in White
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret George Eliot, Daniel Deronda

H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds
R.L. Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Permissible Research Sources:

If you choose to do outside research, your sources must be appropriately academic (e.g., books, chapters/essays, journal articles). Non-academic online sources such as Wikipedia, Spark Notes,, etc. are absolutely NOT acceptable. Any information that you take from sources outside your own noggin must be cited appropriately in MLA format.

A Word on Choosing...

You will not be allowed to write on the same text (or topic) in Essay 2 that you address in Essay 1, and I tend to frown on too much or too direct repetition when it comes to the final exam, so plan accordingly! 

Essay Two Proposal Option (optional)

Length: 1 page (single-spaced)

Due: At any point up to Thursday, 5 November Worth: Up to +10 on your second essay

Purpose: This should be a one-page proposal indicating the topic and approach you plan to take for your second essay (2000-2500 words, due 21 November). You may write on any subject that interests you, so long as it is in relation to at least one of the course texts.

Instructions: Your proposal should include the following:

  • The course text (or texts) that you want to look at (as well as other primary texts, if applicable).

  • A concise (one- or two-sentence) description of your topic — a thesis statement would be best here, but a nice, specific purpose statement will work as well.

  • A list of at least two research sources that you intend to use, accompanied by a brief indication of how/why you want to incorporate that source (e.g., an annotated bibliography).  Example: “Elaine Freegood, “Fringe,” Victorian Literature & Culture (2002): 257-263. I want to use Freegood’s examination of “boundary anxiety” in Victorian culture in my discussion of clothing as a means of decoding and controlling the feminine.

  • A paragraph describing why you have selected this topic and explaining some of the major issues you will address — be as specific as you can. Example: “I intend to focus on three particular moments of ‘reading’ clothing in Woman in White: Walter Hartright’s first assessment of Anne Catherick’s ‘respectable’ if unusual dress, as well as...”

  • A description of any problems you might have in planning and writing this essay, and any strategies you might have for dealing with those problems.

  • A potential title for your essay.

Important: You may NOT focus on the same theme or primary text that you used in your first essay. Also, while you may choose to change your essay topic, text(s), or approach after you have submitted your proposal, I suggest that you come talk to me about any significant differences between your proposal and your final effort.

Course Texts:

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Wilkie Collins, Woman in White
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret
George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
R.L. Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds