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The nineteenth-century novel

Novels in the nineteenth century were particularly engaged with the events, circumstances, beliefs and attitudes of their time. This module encourages you to enjoy and understand them through the study of twelve texts from England (mainly), France and the USA, including works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, George Eliot, Flaubert and Conrad. The focus is on understanding the role of the novel in representing and exploring social and cultural change, the flexibility of the genre and how it developed aesthetically, stylistically and structurally. You’ll also engage with academic debates appropriate to study at OU level 3, through the examination of contemporary and current critical approaches.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Of all literary genres, the novel is probably the best adapted to the representation and exploration of social change and one of the aims of the module is to provide opportunities for investigating the ways that novels can function as evidence in enquiries about the past.

Book 1 The first half of the module introduces six nineteenth-century novels: Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Dombey and Son, Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd and Germinal. A brief introduction leads to a section on ‘Books and Their Readers’, which provides a context for the production and consumption of novel texts. Chapters on the novels follow in two main sections. In the first, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre and Dombey and Son are explored with emphasis on issues of genre, starting with close readings of the text and moving on to a wider discussion of relevant issues. A distinctive aspect of this first part is the extent to which novels are seen to construct their plots in terms of the changing nature of a more or less settled community – at times, as in Jane Eyre, in terms of the radical interference of an outsider figure. In the second part, chapters on Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd and Germinal examine how fictional conventions are modified as writers engage with social and political issues, including the extent to which the novels endorse or contest the circumstances they describe, and the extent to which they seek a fictional resolution for what are ultimately political dilemmas.

Book 2 In the first part of this book we look at the problematic constructions of female identity in Madame Bovary, The Woman in White and The Portrait of a Lady. The Woman in White has a central position to allow for an interrogation of ‘realist’ methods and effects by means of the subversive and extremely popular genre of sensationalism, at the same time challenging Flaubert’s and James’s creations. The second part leads to an examination of the opportunities created by the decline of the traditional ‘three-decker’ novel form and the profound questioning of moral certainties evident towards the end of the century in Dracula, The Awakening and Heart of Darkness. As well as the study of these six novels from the European, English and American traditions, we consider such issues as the increasing self-consciousness of novelists and the changing nature of the relationship between their work and its readers and publishers.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.  

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The last TMA is double length. 

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU. 

Our module Reading and studying literature (A230) is highly recommended as preparation. It is a wide-ranging introduction to literary texts and how they are studied, essential if you have little or no experience of literary criticism. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

You are strongly advised to read as many of the set texts as you can before the module begins, especially as the two most substantial novels on the module Dombey and Son and Middlemarch, form something of a ‘bulge’ in the first half of the year’s work. Whilst most of the set texts are shorter than the average nineteenth-century novel, there is a considerable amount of reading to be done.


Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 -

Registration now closed

The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 Not yet available

Registration opens on 12/03/15

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2015.
Sorry, there is a problem with this page at the moment, while we are fixing it please review the information on our main Fees and Funding Page

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, audio CDs, website.

Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness

Bram Stoker Dracula.

You will need

Audio CD player.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Austen, Jane Northanger Abbey Oxford University Press £6.99 - ISBN 9780199535545
  • Bronte, C Jane Eyre Oxford University Press £6.99 - ISBN 9780199535590
  • Regan, Stephen (ed) The Nineteenth-century Novel: A Critical Reader Routledge £28.99 - ISBN 9780415238281
  • Eliot, George Middlemarch Oxford University Press £7.99 - ISBN 9780199536757
  • Chopin, Kate The Awakening Oxford University Press £8.99 - ISBN 9780199536948
  • Dickens, Charles Dombey and Son Oxford University Press £8.99 - ISBN 9780199536283
  • Flaubert, Gustave Madame Bovary Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140449129
  • Collins, Wilkie The Woman in White Oxford University Press £7.99 - ISBN 9780199535637
  • Hardy, Thomas Far from the Madding Crowd Oxford University Press £6.99 - ISBN 9780199537013
  • Zola, Emile Germinal Oxford University Press £8.99 - ISBN 9780199536894
  • James, Henry The Portrait of a Lady Oxford University Press £7.99 - ISBN 9780199217946

Two additional novels are provided free as part of the module materials.

If you have a disability

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Written transcripts are available for the audio material. The written study material is available in comb-bound format.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.