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Victorian Novel Essay Prompts

Updated 4/3/2013

The exam is designed to:

  • Reward students who have read works, attended class, and participated in group work.
  • Gauge students’ ability to identify important passages from texts and explain their significance.
  • Measure how well students can discuss issues and ideas associated with the Victorian period.  

Preparation Tips:

  • Spend time reviewing the reading list.  Look at particular authors and jar your memory about their works and what makes the writers distinctive. 
  • Reread the introduction on the Victorian period.
  • Reveiw class minutes and PowerPoint presentation.
  • For essays, make sure you can remember main points and ideas.
  • For stories and poems, try to review the plots or main ideas, themes and techniques. 
  • Make outlines to answers for questions on the essay question sheet.
  • Review group work and study with classmates.

Part I.  Short Answer:  Answer five of six questions with a brief response (25 total points).  Some will require a word or two; others will require a sentence or two. 

These questions will be factual questions based on information from the introduction to the period, PowerPoints, class notes, the author biographies, and the literature you read.  You will need to know some of the important historical dates we emphasized, significance of historical events, facts about the authors lives, and details from the plots. Some of this information will come from works we discussed, but a significant portion will come from works on the reading list that we did not discuss in class. 


Part II. Identification:  Choose 4 of the 5 quotations or images and identify author/artist and title of the work (2 pts.).  Then in two or three sentences explain the significance of the lines (why the lines are especially important to the work) or important features of the image (if it's a painting). (6 pts.). (4x8=32 total points) 

See sample answer on romantics exam study guide.


Part III. Essay: Choose 1 of 2 and answer in a brief essay.  (43 total points).  Make sure to plan your answer before writing it.  Begin your answer with a clear thesis statement that forecasts your answer (no need for an extensive introduction), and then develop your thesis with organized paragraphs that include topic sentences, use specific references to the texts, have clear analysis which explains your answer to the question or addresses the topic.  Take time to proofread your answer before you turn it in.  These questions test both your ability to write in depth about particular ideas and make connections across genres and periods. 

  1. The industrial revolution was certainly a significant influence on the attitudes and literature of the Victorian period.  Explain how "Cranford" and one other literary work reflect different attitudes about the industrial revolution.
  2. One of the social responses to the Industrial Revolution was a "counter-revolution" in arts and literature.  Explain what that counter-revolution was and illustrate your answer with at least three different examples (from different works).
  3. When we were talking about Victorian fiction, I mentioned three main expectations Victorian readers generally had for fiction.  Explain what these expectations were and show how one work of fiction clearly met these expectations and another did not.
  4. Explain how Tennyson uses imagery in "The Lady of Shalott" to comment on how difficult it is for an artist to live in "the real world."
  5. Class distinction is a HUGE issue during the Victorian period.  Explain how two literary works (fiction, poetry, or drama) offer a critique of the class system in Britain.  
  6. The Victorian period is often noted for being an age of great faith and at the same time an age of great doubt.  Do one of the following: A) Pick one work and explain how it exemplifies this conflict, or B) Pick two works (one on faith and one on doubt) and explain how they exemplify these different views.
  7. The Victorian Period is an era which valued education and self-improvement a great deal.  Explain how Great Expectations and one other work comment on the value of education and/or self-improvement.  
  8. Define and distinguish between the terms Aestheticism and Decadence and illustrate your answer with at least two different poems.
  9. Oscar Wilde uses humor in The Importance of Being Earnest to suggest flaws he sees with Victorian society.  Choose two aspects of the culture that he thinks should be changed, and use a couple of examples to illustrate each point.
  10. Several works of the Victorian period represent aberrant personalities, characters that deviate from the norm to such an extent that they are shocking, immoral, and perhaps even evil.  Select two of these characters and explain how the authors are able to make the characters so unsettling and what point the authors are trying to make by using these creepy characters.
  11. As many of the works we've read demonstrate, Victorian writers had a particular “passion for the past” (to use Tennyson’s phrase).  Give two examples of writers who set their works in the past and explain why that strategy is particularly appropriate given the topic or theme of the work.
  12. Several of the works reveal subtle and not so subtle violence against women.  Pick two different works and explain what attitudes about women are reflected in the works based on the way the authors depict them.
  13. One of the issues we discussed was the decline of religion during the Victorian period.  Compare and contrast how two literary works show the decline of Christianity and its replacement with a secularized version of some Christian values. 

A List Of 10 Intriguing Essay Topics On Victorian Literature For College Students

Here is a short, random list of ten highly informative and intriguing essay topics on Victorian literature for you to peruse and select. To garner your interest and help you decide on an intriguing topic for your assignment, this list gives a brief explanation or motivation after each topic is given.

Before you make your decision, it is imperative that you invest in an understanding of what Victorian literature is essentially all about and note the period it was written in.

Ten topics

  • A Christmas theme – Charles Dickens – It’s that time of the year and what could be better than worming your way through A Christmas Carol.
  • Where the modern-day political and family dramas originated – George Eliot – Find out how political and cultural intrigues and modern-day romances developed in Middlemarch.
  • Getting away from it all – Thomas Hardy – In Far from the Madding Crowd, you can immerse yourself in rural settings which also has its own set of problems.
  • Dark romance – Emily Bronte – It does not get any darker than in Wuthering Heights.
  • A family writing compendium – The Bronte Sisters – Don’t confine you and wrap yourself around several of the Bronte sisters’ works, including their poetry.
  • Adventure stories for boys and girls – Robert Louis Stevenson – Treasure Island has been enjoyed by most lovers of Victorian literature, young and old.
  • Mysterious dream narratives – Lewis Carroll – Children love the story of Alice in Wonderland, but you could take this as an opportunity to learn how narratives are constructed around dreams.
  • Coming of age stories – Mark Twain – Victorian literature is not confined to the British Isles. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are two all-American characters well worth studying.
  • The king of horror – Edgar Allan Poe – Forget about Steven King, Poe is the master. There is only one way to find out. But, be warned.
  • Between man and beast – Herman Melville – Particularly at US colleges, this text of Moby Dick remains high on the recommended reading list. With the phenomenon of global warming and climate change, as well as the reckless slaughter of endangered species, this text invites you to explore new possibilities.

This short ideas list has given many college students a realm of possibilities where writing critical and literary essays on Victorian-era literature is concerned. These ideas are also designed to stimulate the students’ interest in classical literature to complete effectively their assignments.