Fiction by Victorian Women: George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell (Online)


Some of the greatest writers of the Victorian period were women. This course looks at the work of authors such as Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Margaret Oliphant both as representing women's lives and women's issues, and as compelling fiction in its own right.

Some Victorian fiction idealizes women and the role of women in Victorian society. Some provides a vessel for the articulation of women's misery, frustration, and anger. This course will examine the ways in which women writers of the period articulated and dramatized that misery, frustration, and anger, both echoed and influenced contemporary debates, and proffered intellectual and practical social solutions to Victorian social ills. We shall look at women's fiction from the Victorian period both as representing women's lives and women's issues, and as compelling fiction in its own right. The key texts we shall explore include Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, and Margaret Oliphant's A Library Window and The Story of a Wedding Tour, as well as extracts from a range of fiction and non-fiction texts.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Publishing and women in the Victorian period - Victorian social contexts.
Unit 2: Getting the most out of Victorian fiction - Using contextual material, analysing literary fiction.
Unit 3: 'The Woman Question' and Victorian fiction I: George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss.
Unit 4: The Woman Question and Victorian fiction II: The Mill on the Floss.
Unit 5: The social-problem novel: Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton.
Unit 6: Fiction of sensation and the supernatural: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret; 'Eveline's Visitant' in Jump ; Margaret Oliphant, 'The Library Window'.
Unit 7: Women and wives in Victorian fiction I: Coventry Patmore, 'The Angel in the House'; Margaret Oliphant, 'A Story of a Wedding Tour' .
Unit 8: Approaches to Victorian women's writing: An overview of the contemporary and recent reception of Victorian womens writing.
Unit 9: Women and wives in Victorian fiction II: The governess - Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre.
Unit 10: Fin de siècle: 'The new woman' and 'the girl of the period' - 'Sarah Grand', The Heavenly Twins; Women writers and 'decadence'.

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:


Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Octavia Cox

Dr Octavia Cox completed her doctorate at the University of Oxford, has taught and lectured at the University of Oxford, the University of Nottingham, and elsewhere, and has published various peer-reviewed chapters and articles.  Her first monograph, Alexander Pope in the Romantic Age, is forthcoming.  She is currently researching a book provisionally titled Jane Austen and Counter-Genre.

Course aims

This course aims to:

  • Introduce students to the range and a representative sample of forms and styles of fiction written by women in the period 1832-1900.
  • Place the texts studied in their cultural contexts.
  • Enable students to gain a greater appreciation and enjoyment of the texts studied.

Teaching methods

  • Each topic will be introduced by notes or by direction to suitable websites.
  • Students will be directed to key passages in the fiction, and offered suggested topics for discussion.
  • Students will be directed to key passages in contemporary non-fiction texts, and offered suggested topics for discussion in relation to the fiction.
  • Students will be directed to further resources, including the STG Victorian web, pages on Victorian language, customs, and fashion.
  • The course will include two quizzes which will be non-assessed.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will understand:

  • The kinds of obstacle facing women authors in the Victorian period.
  • The kinds of educational and employment opportunities available and not available to women in the Victorian period.
  • The ways in which 'the woman question' was represented and debated in print in the Victorian period.
  • The differences between genres in which women authors published in the Victorian period.
  • The distinctive features of the writing of the authors studied.
  • Some issues involved in the formal study of women's writing.

By the end of the course students will have developed the following:

  • Improved skills of close critical analysis of literary texts.
  • Improved skills of the use of contextual material in the study of literary texts.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.