Trollope, Eliot, Dickens and Hardy: Reading Victorian Fiction (Online)


Madness, hilarity, doubt and devotion are just some of the many aspects of life explored in the huge wealth of Victorian fiction. This course makes the great creative energy present in nineteenth-century writers accessible through reading a mixture of popular and less well-known works by the century's greatest authors.

Victorian fiction has an astonishing breadth of styles, themes and subject matter. Authors with diverse aims and outlooks produced novels and stories to instruct, entertain, horrify and amuse a reading public that expanded throughout the nineteenth century, demanding work that was sometimes gripping and always thought-provoking. This course will focus on works by four of the era's major figures - Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy - identifying how the century's main preoccupations find substance in the work of its greatest writers. The works chosen to illustrate these topics. Barchester Towers, Scenes of Clerical Life, Great Expectations and Far from the Madding Crowd  will be studied alongside extracts from other fictional and non-fictional prose, giving the fullest possible sketch of how far these authors both mirror and transform the Victorian world.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Becoming a Victorian

  • Likenesses and differences
  • Fears and aspirations
  • Some eminent Victorians
  • The Victorian experience of reading

Unit 2: Trollope - Barchester Towers (1857) - contexts

  • Religion in Victorian Britain
  • Victorian clergymen
  • Issues, debates and personalities
  • Anthony Trollope
  • Trollope and the clergy
  • The world of Barsetshire

Unit 3: Trollope - Barchester Towers (1857) - close reading and analysis

  • A Barsetshire setting
  • Clergymen (and others)
  • The women in Barchester
  • Parents and children
  • Wives and husbands
  • Good and bad influences

Unit 4: Eliot - Scenes of Clerical Life (1858) - contexts

  • The Victorians and romantic love
  •  Duty and propriety: men
  •  Duty and propriety: women
  • George Eliot
  • George Eliot and duty
  • Heroism without ideals

Unit 5: Eliot - Scenes of Clerical Life (1858) - close reading and analysis

  • Ideals of duty
  • Images of duty
  • Vocation
  • Compassion and attraction
  • Rejection and renunciation
  • Reconciliation

Unit 6: Dickens - Great Expectations (1862) - contexts

  • The rural world to the city dweller
  • The discovery of London
  • Charles Dickens
  • An orphan's view
  • Earnings and acquisitions
  • Gentility

Unit 7: Dickens - Great Expectations (1862) - close reading and analysis

  • Knowing as a child knows
  • Knowing as an adult knows
  • A realistic setting
  • A Gothic portrayal
  • Perception and society

Unit 8: Hardy - Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) - contexts

  • Thomas Hardy
  • Mapping Wessex
  • The Wessex community
  • Traditions and innovations
  • New and old as forces of destiny

Unit 9: Hardy - Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) - close reading and analysis

  • New and old characters
  • The changing environment
  • Traditional values and traditional roles
  • The world as a stage
  • Debating the issues

Unit 10: The Legacy of the Victorians

  • Some key issues in Victorian fiction
  • What the novels have in common
  • How the novels differ
  • Victorian fiction and Victorian society
  • Victorian and contemporary


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

  • Enhance understanding and enjoyment of literary texts.
  • Distinguish between opinions and appreciations, and analysis.
  • Have a working knowledge of the broad chronological, thematic, and stylistic categories of English Literature.
  • Produce written work utilising academic conventions of format and referencing.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you will understand:

  • The principal features of the content and form of the novels and stories studied.
  • The relevant contexts - historical, biographical, literary, ideological - for the four main works studied.
  • A literary analysis of Victorian fiction discussing significant features such as narrative structure and mode, characterisation and imagery.

And you will have developed the following skills:

  • The ability to identify relevant factors of specific content and form in Victorian fiction.
  • The ability to recognize features of differing contexts present in Victorian fiction.
  • The ability to undertake a literary analysis of a Victorian fictional text.

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.