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19th-Century British Literature and Visual Culture

19-century photograph of women

“[What] is the use of a book,” muses Alice before her tumble down the rabbit-hole into Wonderland, “without pictures or conversations?”

While Alice may be reflecting specifically on her experiences with books designed for young readers, her question evokes a widespread fascination in nineteenth-century society with book illustrations and other visual media.

The expansion of spaces of exhibition and what Kate Flint refers to as “technologies of spectatorship,” including museums and galleries, periodicals and advertisements, commercial venues, and illustrated journalism, contributed to a burgeoning written commentary designed to educate an increasingly literate, affluent, and democratic readership about how to engage with, interpret, and evaluate what they saw.

Our course will explore the intersections between what was seen and what was said, beginning with a consideration of the tradition of ekphrasis inherited from the Romantics, and moving through poems, novels, short stories, and non-fiction that is variously concerned with what is seen (or in some cases veiled and perilously hidden from view) in nineteenth-century culture.

Throughout the year, our study of poems, short prose, and novels will allow us to investigate the dynamic interplay between literature and visual media, including painting, arts and crafts, sculpture and monuments, book and periodical illustration, advertising, architecture, clothing and interior decor, commodity culture, photography, and the human body as itself an object shaped by and subject to scrutiny, as we endeavour to satisfy our own twenty-first-century fascination with showing, exposing, and viewing ourselves, each other, and our world.


Course requirements are likely to include one or two essays per term, regular attendance and participation, short written assignments and/or online discussion posts, and a final exam.

Attendance at no less than 70% of onsite and online classes is required to pass the course.


ENGL 200, ENGL 290 and registration in an English major or medial plan

Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153



Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.