EMC CPD Online: Character and the Victorian Novel – an EMC Lecture (7.7.21)

Course content

In March 2021, the New York Review of Books observed that ‘Readers love fictional characters almost as if they were real people. Literary scholars are just starting to take them seriously’. This lecture will explore what taking Victorian fictional characters ‘seriously’ might involve.

Drawing on some of this recent scholarship, we will approach nineteenth-century characters from two main angles. The first will delve into the Victorians’ evolving sense of what ‘character’ was – a sense shaped by developments in psychology and philosophy as well as by socio-political changes – and the new language that emerged to describe it. In 1820, Samuel Taylor Coleridge had asked ‘What is the definition, not verbal but real, of PERSONALITY? What constitutes a PERSON?’ These were questions which the next generation of writers set out to answer, and we will see how they did so through examples taken from Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Gray. The second part of the talk, illustrated by Wuthering Heights and Dracula, will tackle some of the literary techniques which novelists turned to as a result of these debates. We will end by thinking about how these contextual and formal concerns might open up approaches to the analysis of literary character, through a focus on Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a novel which anticipates recent scholarly debates concerning why we care about fictional characters by probing the difficulty of reconciling a readerly response to Tess – liking or disliking Tess, identifying with Tess, crying over Tess – with a critical one.

This is an EMC lecture, with Q&A. These lectures, from experts in their field, are designed to refresh and enrich teacher subject knowledge.

Further details

  • This course will be recorded but participants will not be audible or visible.


  • If relevant, course materials will be sent the day before the course in the email with your joining instructions. Please either print these out or have them available on screen during the session.
  • After the session you will receive the PowerPoint presentation, any resources used on the course and a £10 voucher to use against any purchase on www.englishandmedia.co.uk
  • A recording of the session will be available for 7 days after the event.

Course tutor: Juliette Atkinson

Juliette Atkinson is an Associate Professor at UCL, where she is in charge of the Victorians course and develops her research interests in fiction and life-writing. She is the author of the books Victorian Biography Reconsidered (OUP, 2010) and French Novels and the Victorians (OUP, 2017), and is currently completing the nineteenth-century volume of Oxford’s History of Life-Writing, George Eliot: A Very Short Introduction (OUP), and an edition of fifty essays on George Eliot written by scholars working around the globe. She is the Victorians/Moderns editor of OUP’s journal The Review of English Studies, and the editor of three Oxford World’s Classics: The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and Jane Eyre.

How to book your place

Bookings for this course will close at 8am on Monday 5th July, or when capacity is reached, whichever is the sooner.

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  • This course must be booked and paid for online. Payment by invoice is not available for this session. Please note: your fee is non-refundable.

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