ENGL 361: The Victorian Novel

• the ideology of gender in the period: the rhetoric of female or male beauty; feminine spirituality and the domestic angel

ENGL 361: The Victorian Novel

Short Essay Assignment

Write a research essay (5-6 pages) analyzing an issue or theme in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

(1847) or George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859). This essay is worth 20% of your final grade.

Focus on a narrow, particular element — a passage, scene, theme, or character (minor

characters are especially conducive to this assignment) — and trace its significance to the

meaning of the text as a whole. Contact me if you need help refining your topic.

You must have a clear and specific claim (or thesis statement), which should appear in your

first paragraph. A thesis is not just a claim: it is a claim plus reasons.

Develop and support your argument with ample, selective evidence from the novel and from

your sources. Close reading is the foundation of your argument, so select your evidence from

the novel carefully. Do not overlook important evidence, including evidence that might

contradict your claim.

In addition to providing ample evidence from the novel, you must also include at least two

critical essays to support your argument. Look for literary criticism that focuses on your novel:

articles from academic journals or chapters in scholarly books. Start by searching in the MLA

Database. Avoid master’s theses and dissertations, since you can find abundant published


You may cite more than two sources if you like. Additional sources might include cultural or

historical backgrounds from a credible sources (print or web-based) such as a reputable

newspaper, the Victorian Web, or a library or university website (such as the British Library).

SparkNotes and material from student essay sites are not acceptable sources. For

examples of credible web sources, see the web links in the content folders on our Blackboard


A good source is pertinent to your topic and helps you make your own argument. It does not

make your argument for you; rather, it helps to establish a platform you can build on. The most

helpful critical essays summarize the critical history of a particular issue in the novel you are

examining: what have scholars already said about this subject? Remember, you are entering a

conversation, and the criticism should help you to find your niche in this conversation.

There are endless topics—just be sure to refine yours narrowly enough so that you can explore

it in some depth, as you have only 5-6 pages.

A few possible topic areas to jog your thinking:

• the function of a minor character in the plot (e.g. Miss Temple, Lisbeth Bede)

• the representation of children or childhood: e.g. Romantic childhood; the thematic

significance of child neglect or abuse; the role of play; friendships between child characters;

the significance of minor child characters such as Adèle or Totty

• the ideology of empire and the representation of race: racial Othering, Orientalist discourse

• the ideology of gender in the period: the rhetoric of female or male beauty; feminine

spirituality and the domestic angel; the fallen woman; women’s education and ambition;

morality and the gentleman; masculinity and work

• the significance of the supernatural, omens, and folklore

• the representation of animals and its function in the narrative

• realism and its relation to a particular theme in the novel (e.g. familial conflict, sexual

temptation, class conflict)

Formatting Requirements

Cite your sources in the body of your essay and document them on a Works Cited page using

MLA style. Important: on your Works Cited page, you cannot include sources that you do not

cite in your essay.

Use a 12-point font and one-inch margins, double space, and don’t forget to number your

pages. Include a title page with your name; my name; course number; date; and essay title.

The essay title is not the name of the assignment (“Essay One”). Nor is it just the name of the

text or character you are discussing (“Hetty Sorrel”). A good essay title clearly signals not only

the text you are discussing but also your topic or focus (“Hetty Sorrel, Girlhood, and

Vulnerability in Adam Bede”).


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