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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: English Studies

ENGL45430: Divergence, Deviance, and Disability in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2021/22


  • Students must hold a good BA degree in English or a related subject to be eligible for entry onto the MA programmes in the Department of English Studies


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Develop critical and close reading skills for engaging with constructions of illness, disability, neurodivergence, and queerness in nineteenth-century literary texts.
  • Examine a range of ways in which nineteenth-century literary, medical and scientific discourses produced categories of the ‘abnormal’, and consider ways in which such categories were contested.
  • Introduce critical and theoretical frameworks from disability studies, the history of sexuality, and the medical humanities.
  • Explore the manner in which ‘abnormality’ is represented and narrativized in a variety of nineteenth-century forms and genres (the novel, autobiography, short stories, the case study), and compare their respective representational strategies.
  • Develop an awareness of how nineteenth-century representations relate to contemporary cultural and medical understandings of illness, disability and divergence.
  • Pursue topics of students’ personal intellectual interest, through contribution to and planning of seminar discussion, and through essay topic selection.


  • The course will be structured around a number of detailed case studies of forms of ‘abnormality’ in the nineteenth-century, allowing students to develop a close understanding of the complexity of literary, scientific and medical discourses that developed around (and produced) specific medical and social categories in the period. In each case study, students will examine literary texts alongside a related medical or scientific text, and be introduced to an appropriate critical framework for engaging with these materials. Case studies will be directed by the interests of students and might include (but are not limited to): sensory disability, such as blindness and deafness; intellectual disability; drug addiction and alcoholism; the science of sexuality (sexology) and sexual deviance; neurodivergence. As well as developing students’ historical understanding, the module will encourage students to consider the ways in which nineteenth-century literary texts remain an important site at which identities are formed and contested today. Our approach to these texts will include, wherever possible, the perspectives of those engaged with activism and advocacy, and those with lived experience of disability, neurodivergence or queerness. Reading lists will vary from year to year and accommodate some response to the developing interests of the group, but will normally include a selection from the works of such authors as Wilkie Collins, Helen Keller, Thomas De Quincey, James Hogg, John Addington Symonds, George Eliot, William Wordsworth, Hermann Melville, Walter Pater, Joseph Conrad, and George Gissing.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • an extensive and detailed knowledge of the literary texts covered on the module;
  • an understanding of scientific and medical discourses from the nineteenth-century relating to (as appropriate) disability, sexuality, addiction, and neurodivergence;
  • a sound grasp of relevant theoretical frameworks relating to (for example) disability, illness or queer identities.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary texts;
  • an ability to demonstrate advanced knowledge of a chosen field of literary studies;
  • an ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature;
  • an ability to articulate and substantiate at a high level a critical and imaginative response to literature;
  • an ability to demonstrate an advanced understanding of appropriate cultural, intellectual, socio-political and linguistic contexts of literature;
  • an ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical material, and to apply this sensitively to literary texts;
  • an advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical terminology.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students are encouraged to develop advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills as well as the ability to communicate an advanced knowledge and conceptual understanding within seminars; the capacity for advanced independent study is demonstrated through the completion of two assessed pieces of work.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 weekly in Epiphany 2hrs 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 40%
Essay 2 3000 words 60%

Formative Assessment:

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University