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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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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 us 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

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


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 speak to an adviser.

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 Fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 Not yet available

Registration opens on 12/03/15

October 2015 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee and funding information provided here is valid for courses starting before 31 July 2015. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation. Fees for courses starting from 1 August 2015 will be available in March 2015.
This information was provided on 29/01/2015.

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

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

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.