ENGL 327: Victorian Novel

Instructor: Susan Jaret McKinstry
Spring 2010

Viz Victorian Novel Webpage
Assignment Archive
Display in Gould Library
Students in English 327
Spring 2010
Course Description
We studied selected British novels of the nineteenth century (Eliot's Middlemarch, Dickens' Bleak House, Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Du Maurier's Trilby, C. Bronte's Jane Eyre, and E. Bronte's Wuthering Heights) as literary texts and cultural objects, examining the prose and also the bindings, pages, and illustrations of Victorian and contemporary editions. Using Victorian serial publications as models, and in collaboration with studio art and art history students, students designed and created short illustrated serial editions of chapters that were exhibited in spring term 2010.

Illustrated Serial Edition Project


The Victorian Illustrated Serial Edition project allows students to create a visual interpretation of a Victorian novel by designing an edition of a chapter, including a portrait, illustrations, and binding, to demonstrate their understanding of Victorian history, consumer culture, novel publication, photography and illustration. See more photos of the exhibition at the Library's site.

Learning Goals

  • Study examples of Victorian novels as cultural, historical, and aesthetic objects
  • Consider the media and materials available
  • Examine the illustrations and how they relate to the text
  • Collaborate with students in art and art history to understand aesthetic elements
  • Work in small groups to make aesthetic and historical choices to create an illustrated serial edition of one chapter of one of the novels

Context for Use

This assignment could be used in an advanced college-level Victorian Novel course, where the students would have access to Victorian editions and serial publication materials (through a Special Collections visit as well as on-line resources) as well as Victorian literature and culture. The project would take place at the end of the course, but students would be working toward it throughout the term. For this particular assignment, students will collaborate with students in other departments - Art History and Studio Art - to create the serial project.

Description and Teaching Materials

The students read Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, George Eliot's Middlemarch, Charles Dickens' Bleak House, George Du Maurier's illustrated Trilby, a facsimile of Lewis Carroll's handwritten, illustrated Alice's Adventures Under Ground, and Charlotte Bronte's The Illustrated Jane Eyre (illustrated by Dame Darcy, 2006). The three examples of illustrated editions, two illustrated by the authors, help show how text and image can work together; the contemporary illustrations in Jane Eyre surprise them. We are very lucky to have a fine collection and generous Special Collections librarians, and I have made a digital resource of many of the materials so students can study them.

Acquisition and Serial Edition Assignments

Teaching Notes and Tips

The opportunity to collaborate with students and faculty in Art and Art History was excellent. We began the class with a visit to Special Collections (with the Art History students in the Curatorial Seminar) to examine Victorian editions and contemporary artists' books - students understood books as objects precisely because they could examine them in a lab environment. Victorian students created a double-pamphlet binding in an evening session with a studio art professor, and created a Victorian portrait of one of the novel's characters in collaboration with a student in the Photography class. They did an acquisition project with the students in the curatorial seminar: in groups, the Victorian students had to locate a Victorian edition for sale online that would add to our collection, create a proposal for the purchase of that book, and present it formally to a group of "trustees." The students learned to examine a collection, search for rare books online and do relevant research, create a compelling "sales pitch," and present their findings. Each of these assignments took a limited amount of time, but the amount of learning was exceptional.

Victorian Novel Student Labels (Acrobat (PDF) 144kB May31 11)


The serial project includes:
  • A 2 page critical introduction to the edition that explains the illustrations, binding, or other material choices in relation to Victorian illustrated serial editions, and includes the sources of any text or images.
  • An exhibit label (150-200 words) describing your edition – its materials, design, goals, the artists, and whatever else will engage the exhibition audience. (Check the art gallery for examples!) Each student or group will present their project to the class at the end of the term, allowing the opportunity to discuss the serial editions and the different results created by the students. They have already presented their acquisition project, and have attended the portrait critique with the photography students, so they have some experience in discussing and critiquing art objects.