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The Villains of Romantic Gothic - ENG00095H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Deborah Russell
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This module focuses on the antagonists and anti-heroes of Romantic-period Gothic writing, asking what they can tell us about the anxieties and obsessions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. We will encounter narratives of usurpation, of political disorder (oppressive masters and violent mobs), and of gendered, racial, and class-based transgression. The module will introduce you to specific Gothic figures: the first vampires in English literature; the troubled Byronic hero; the double; outcasts like the ‘wandering Jew’. We will explore the dark attraction of destructive passions while also probing how and why certain impulses were ‘othered’. Throughout the module, we will relate the fears and attractions of the Gothic mode to contemporary political upheavals and to wider dynamics of national identity, gender, race, and class.

The majority of our reading will be Gothic fiction, but the module will also cover poetry, drama, and non-fictional prose. The range of texts will ensure that we can challenge traditional distinctions between ‘Romanticism’ and ‘the Gothic’, as well as between ‘male’ and ‘female’ Gothic writing. Covering the period between 1764 (the publication date of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto) and 1824 (when James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner appeared), we will examine the groundbreaking work of Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Dacre, and Joanna Baillie, among others. The module will trace how the villains of early Gothic writing were shaped into the archetypal figures that we know today.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The purpose of this module is to provide a grounding in Romantic-period Gothic literature, enabling you to understand the development of the genre in relation to wider social, cultural, and political contexts. It aims to introduce you to critical and theoretical debates about the genre, and to help you to develop research skills that are particularly relevant to the study of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary texts.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a range of Gothic texts.
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the literary, social, and political contexts of the Romantic period.
  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields.
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas that demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
3000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines


Task Length % of module mark
3000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading


  • Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
  • Ann Radcliffe, The Italian
  • Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya
  • John Polidori, The Vampyre
  • James Hogg, Confessions of a Justified Sinner


  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Christabel’
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Wandering Jew


  • Joanna Baillie, De Monfort
  • Lord Byron, Manfred

Non-Fictional Prose:

  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men
  • Hannah More, Village Politics

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.