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Topics in Victorian Literature

Victorian Literature After Darwin

An elderly man with his finger up to his mouth

This course examines the impact of evolution by natural selection (aka “Darwin’s dangerous idea) on the imaginative literature of the long nineteenth century. The revolutionary impact of Darwin’s work in The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) is almost impossible to overstate: among other things, it challenged, and in some cases overthrew, many of the most fundamental and cherished assumptions about what it means to be human. Thus, it held major implications not just for biology and other life sciences, but for nearly every domain of thought, changing how people understood morality, aesthetics, psychology, politics, the environment, gender relations, race, empire, and countless other topics. We will consider the ways in which the novelists and poets of the period responded to, made use of, and sometimes clapped back at Darwin. We will see his unmistakable influence on the development of the new genre of science fiction, and will also consider the way his work helped to reshape the understanding and practice of more traditional literary modes, like narrative realism and the lyric.


Assessments consist of: 

  • Active participation in class discussion
  • Short in-class writing assignments
  • A mid-semester essay (5-6 pages) 
  • final essay (6-7 pages)


  • ENGL 200
  • ENGL 290

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.