Sensation Fiction

In the 1860s, Victorian
readers were shocked, scandalized, and mesmerized by a new genre of fiction:
sensation fiction.  While many Victorian novels shied away from scandalous
aspects of society – sex, adultery, madness, stolen identity, and crime – the
sensation novel embraced them, bringing taboo close to home for “uptight”
Victorian readers.  In this class we will critically examine the sensation
novel and its variations from the Victorian period to the present, paying
particular attention to themes of gender, race, class, sexuality, and identity.
We begin with what is considered the first sensation novel, Wilkie Collins’ The
Woman in White
, and move to novels by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Richard
Marsh, Evelyn Piper, Chester Himes, and Sarah Waters, to understand how this
genre morphs as it moves across space and time.  Generally considered the
forerunner of the detective novel, this class will work to understand
“sensation” as a distinct genre, and examine how its elements make
their way into pulp fiction and crime novels, and how sensation fiction resists
categorization as detective fiction.  Secondary readings will include primary
documents and literary criticism on the genre and our novels.  This class
is writing intensive, thus students will be expected to complete three short
essays, one longer final essay, and informal short writing assignments.


Required Texts

Wilkie Collins, The
Woman in White

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady
Audley’s Secret

Richard Marsh, The

Evelyn Piper, Bunny
Lake is Missing

Chester Himes, The Real
Cool Killers

Sarah Waters, Fingersmith

Selected readings on



Course Requirements

Attendance and

3 Short essays

Longer Final Essay

Informal Short Writing