Victorian Detective Novels

Course details

From £1365.00

Sun 28 Jul 2019 - Sat 03 Aug 2019

Victorian Detective Novels


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

As a genre, the detective story remains hugely popular and highly influential. From Edgar Allan Poe’s Rue Morgue stories to contemporary television adaptations the detective formula invites us to solve the mystery and outwit the criminal.  This course will examine not only Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, but also one of the original detective stories ‘The Woman in White’ featuring the narrator in the role of unwitting detective. Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, meanwhile, employs fears about gender and class, as Lady Audley's criminal upward mobility poses a threat to wider society. This course offers an insight into Victorian attitudes to the police, Scotland Yard and to crime.   


Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.


Introduction to the course:

The development of detective fiction shows a growing awareness that writers were shaping an audience’s attitudes to criminality.

This session outlines the origin of the genre and its relationship to the Sensation Novel of the 1860s. Not only did it excite the reader with questionable subject matter of murder, fraud and bigamy, the close insights offered in its narration allowed the reader to explore the shocking secrets and unexpected revelations.


The Woman in White

Lies and truth are the central concerns of this session on a novel that blurs the boundaries of gender, class and identity. Featuring the foreign spy and the national concerns of the 1860s, this novel introduces the intriguing Italian, Count Fosco. The readers’ attempts to discover Fosco’s identity form the central theme of the novel, but this becomes problematic since Fosco is a consummate liar and not even Walter Hartright, the hero, is beyond telling lies.


Lady Audley’s Secret

This session will examine the issues of doubleness and multiple or substitute identities in the story. The story relies on the significance of time and change to hide the truth. The ability to manage and account for time becomes the secret for detecting Lady Audley’s secret. The session will also consider how the story mirrors many of the same themes from the real-life Constance Kent case of June 1860 that gripped the nation with headline news for years.  


The Speckled Band

The relationship between British society and its colonies are the focus of this session. In the story of The Speckled Band, Conan Doyle indicates the fears that arise when money is pours into Britain from India. The by-products of this money, according to this detective story include social change through greed, theft, and instability. The British colonies are thus portrayed as lawless, waiting to introduce their legacies of crime and strange forms of murder to British shores. 


Decline or revival of the genre?

Given the proliferation of television crime dramas and crime genre and subgenre films, like the spy thriller, the genre appears to continue to sell. Scholars and writers alike have offered explanations for the continued appeal of the detective story; however, this session will raise questions about the dilution of the form. There will also be an opportunity to investigate interest in neo-Victorian interpretations of Sherlock Holmes.


Recommended reading

The three novels to be studied are: The Woman in White, 1860, Lady Audley’s Secret, 1862, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story The Speckled Band, 1892. Please note these texts must be brought to class and kindle editions are fine.  It is not however necessary to bring the other books, below.

Bradford Richard. Crime Fiction: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Knight, Stephen. Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

Pykett, Lynn. The Sensation Novel from ‘The Woman in White to the Moonstone’, Northcote House, 1994.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century. Bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The fee £1545 includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form.  Early application for these rooms is essential.

Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


Programme fee (with single en-suite accommodation and meals): £1545.00
Programme fee (with single standard accommodation and meals): £1365.00


Ms Sara Zadrozny


Sara lectured in English at the University of Reading Instutute of Education. She now  teaches on the weekly classes and for the Oxford Experience. Her research interests include theory, Victorian literature and Children's Literature. 

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Wednesday 1 May 2019 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.