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7AAEM758 Man, Woman and Machine: Victorian Fictions

Credit value: 20
Module convenor: Dr Adelene Buckland
Assessment: 4000 word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching: One two hour seminar weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Module aims:

1. to give students the opportunity to explore in detail a range of nineteenth-century texts, many of which are very well known, but which are rarely taught, on undergraduate literary courses. 

2. to explore the ways in which literature shaped the development of Victorian science and technology, and may continue to shape technological developments and discourses in the present  

3. to introduce students to the philosophies of mechanism, vitalism, and organicism as they shaped literary writing in the nineteenth century, as well as to feminist philosophies of technology, science, and maternity, and to the concept of the 'posthuman' as it is emerging in recent critical discourse

4. to give students an in-depth historical understanding of the 'age of the machines' and the texts which constituted and defined it

Module description:

This module explores the relationship between man, woman and machine as it came under scrutiny by nineteenth-century writers in both Britain and America. It does so by zooming in on one of the most seemingly intimate of human activities - the long period of the gestation and care of infants in humans - as performed by machines. If human life could be generated, produced, or sustained by mechanical means, nineteenth-century writers asked, what was 'life' in the first place? And what did it mean to be 'human'? The module focuses on the ways in which the literatures of fantasy, terror and desire merged with the technical and scientific to produce new mechanical forms emerged across the century. Through a series of scientific, literary, technological, and philosophical readings, we will ask: how did - and how does - imaginative writing shape the development of new technologies? And how have humanoid machines, throughout their long history, contributed to new definitions of human instinct, passion, imagination, reason, sense, and feeling?

Core reading:

  • Machine Life: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
  • The Age of Machinery: Thomas Carlyle, ‘Signs of the Times’ (1829), chapter 15 of Marx’s Capital (‘The Machine’), and Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1984)
  • Imagining Artificial Life: Ada Lovelace, ‘Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage … with notes by the translator, translated by Ada Lovelace’ (1843)
  • Apes and machines: Alfred Russel Wallace, extracts from The Malay Archipelago (1865); Richard Owen, Memoir on the Gorilla (1865); Paul du Chaillu, Stories of the Gorilla Country (1867)
  • Darwin among the machines: [Samuel Butler], Erewhon; or, Over the Range (1872) with Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (1968)
  • Baby farming: George Moore, Esther Waters (1894)
  • Mechanical mothers: ‘The Eccaleobeion’, Lucy Clifford, ‘The New Mother’ from The Anyhow Stories, Moral or Otherwise (1882), and George Haven Putnam, ‘The Artificial Mother’ (1895)
  • The machine in the nursery: Ellis Parker Butler, ‘The Incubator Baby’ (1895), World’s Fairs, and the Coney Island Incubator Show, alongside Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (2013)
  • Scientific baby-rearing: H.G. Wells, The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth (1904)
  • Ectogenesis: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932); Charlotte Haldane, Man’s World (1926)

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this module students wil be able to: 

1. Display mastery of a complex and specialised area of knowledge: the history of artificial life and its discourses across the long nineteenth century, as well as the feminist, posthuman, and philosophical discussions it provoked 

2. Demonstrate expertise in highly specialised and advanced research skills, reading widely across a range of different kinds of texts (scientific, technical, philosophical and literary) in order to make insightful connections across and between them, applying appropriate research methodologies to mediate between these different texts and ideas. 

3. Develop self-management skills by disciplining themselves to tackle a range of long and difficult texts crossing a range of disciplines and learning to write about them at length

4. Demonstrate excellent communication and literacy skills, producing a 4000-word essay, and making verbal contributions in the form of discussion, presentation, and written work in in-depth weekly seminars 

3.  Employ team-working skills to tackle complex texts in seminar groups, identifying and solving research problems during class 


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.


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