Love, Blood and Spies: the Romance, Gothic and Espionage Genres in 19th and 20th Century Writing


Love, Blood and Spies: the Romance, Gothic and Espionage Genres in 19th and 20th Century Writing

Genre is still often thought of as the poor relation to literary fiction. This course explores genres as central to all writing, fiction and non-fiction.  Far from being a set of clichés – the brooding hero of the romance, the creaking haunted house and so on – or ‘clever stories that can play on readers’ expectation’, this course considers genres as at the centre of literary history. Genres, with their distinctive patterns of character and story are ways of representing, thinking about and understanding the social and political world. When Gothic fiction emerged in the late 18th century it was significantly shaped by new ideas about history and historical change. Yet, genres are versatile: Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon use the supernatural to explore the rules of gender in their Victorian ghostly tales; many poets of World War One use the conventions of gothic writing to explore their experiences at the front and its aftermaths. We’ll explore three genres and how they overlap and intersect with each other and others: romance understood in the expanded sense to include various kinds of individual love as well as love of nature and of country; gothic or horror, in particular the presence of the ghostly and eerie; and spy fiction and its obsessions with trust and surveillance.


Tutor:                    Rachel Malik

Time:                     Thursdays 10.30am – 12.30pm

Dates:                   Sept 21 – Nov 30 (half term Oct 26)

                               Jan 11 – March 22 (half term Feb 15)

                               April 26 – June 14 (half term May 31)

Venue:                 Gosling Room

Fees:                     HLSI members £95 for a 10-week term

                              £68 for 7-week summer term

                              Non-members £120 for a 10-week term

                              £86 for 7-week summer term


Autumn Term

In the Autumn term, we’ll look at how these genres are constitutive of 19th and early 20th century Romantic poetry, Victorian fiction and fin de siècle writing. We’ll start with some of the haunted Romantic writing of the early 19th century – with a focus on Emily Bronte’s poetry and forays into Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary Shelley.  Then we’ll look at different types of mid-century Victorian fiction, including George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil and supernatural short stories by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. We’ll end the term with a focus on fin-de-siècle writing from 1890-1914, a period which saw the emergence of spy fiction as one of the many forms in which the various cultural, social and political uncertainties were played out. We’ll read Henry James, The Aspern Papers, Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands and the Emma poems by Thomas Hardy.


Spring Term

In the Spring term we’ll look at the role of romance, gothic/horror and espionage narratives in writing about World War One and its aftermath – poems, fiction, journalism and memoir.  We’ll look at the role of various types of love and haunting in war poetry by Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas. We’ll look at two spy novels both set during World War One: John Buchan’s Mr Standfast (1916) and stories from Ashenden (1928) by Somerset Maugham. We’ll end by looking at Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway which explores how the war lives on in various forms in 1920s London and how this becomes a way of thinking more generally about the presence of the past in the psyche and memory as a form of haunting.


Summer Term

In the Summer term we’ll look at some contemporary mutations of these genres in poetry, nature writing and fiction.

The following list is provisional but could include: John Le Carré, The Night Manager, Sarah Waters, The Night Watch and nature writing and poetry by Kathleen Jamie.


Reading List for the Autumn Term

Emily Bronte, Complete Poems (Penguin, 1992), ed. Janet Gezari

George Eliot, The Lifted Veil and Brother Jacob (Oxford World Classics, 2009), ed. Helen Small

The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (OUP, 1992/2003), ed. Michael Cox and R. A. Gilbert

Henry James, The Aspern Papers and Other Stories (Oxford, 2013), ed. Adrian Poole

Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017)

Thomas Hardy, Collected Poems (Wordsworth, 1992)



Michael Ferber, Romanticism, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010)

Frances Gorman ed. The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture (CUP 2010)

See Also Two-day Short Courses: Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dickens Great Expectations, Dante The Divine Comedy in Translation, The Odyssey in Translation