UCL Summer School


The Birth of Feminism: UCL, Bloomsbury and Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism

Key Information

Module code
Taught during
Session One
Module leader
Dr Maria-Novella Mercuri
Standard entry requirements
Assessment method
In-class test (25%), Presentation (25%), Exam (50%)
Download syllabus (PDF)

Module overview

This module explores the rise of feminism in England from the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to World War I, when London was a hot house of radical thinking and the temporary or definitive home of a variety of brilliant cosmopolitan thinkers and writers who converged here attracted by the infinite opportunities for debate on the most varied ‘isms’: positivism, liberalism, socialism, trade-unionism, Ibsenism, Freudianism, vegetarianism, pacifism, secularism and, last but not least, evolutionism. Darwin’s theories of natural and sexual selection and his views of the place of woman in the evolution of the human species had a wide and deep impact on the debate on the Woman Question. They were received and appropriated in different ways by New Woman writers, but none of them escaped their influence.

UCL had a prominent place in these exciting debates also because of its deep connection to Darwinism through figures such as Francis Galton, Edward Grant, Edwin Ray Lankester and Karl Pearson, so this is the right place to explore Darwinism’s fundamental ontological implications for the cultural and literary discourse of the fin-de siècle.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, students will:

  • Broad knowledge of the historical development of feminism and of the movement for civil rights in Britain
  • Knowledge of the literature produced by a group of feminist authors who have been generally overlooked by traditional academic curricula, and of their contribution to literary Modernism
  • Understanding of a culturally intense moment in the history of London and of a period of dramatic social and political changes in Britain
  • Understanding of the ontological impact that the theory of evolution and psychoanalysis had on Victorians
  • Understanding of the impact that Ibsen’s theatre had not only on the London stage but also on radical literary and philosophical debates

Module prerequisites

This is a level one module (equivalent to first year undergraduate). No prior subject knowledge is required to study this module but students are expected to have a keen interest in the subject area.

Module hours

Classes (usually three or four hours per day) take place on the Bloomsbury campus from Monday to Friday any time between 9am and 6pm.


  • 2,500 word essay (70%)
  • 10-minute oral presentation (30%)

Module leader

Dr Maria-Novella Mercuri is a Teaching Fellow in Italian and European Cultural Studies and has been teaching for more than two decades, the last of which on undergraduate courses at UCL. She obtained an MA in Philosophy and a PhD in Comparative Literature at UCL, and an MA in Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck. Her current writing project is a study of German influences on the work of the American writer Edith Wharton. Her other interests are: German 19th century History of Culture, English and American 19th century women writers, history of British feminism, Shakespeare and Italian Renaissance.

Application information

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