About the course
The English master's programmes are designed to serve both as an autonomous degree for students wishing to pursue more advanced studies in English literature, and as a solid foundation for doctoral research.
The MSt in English Literature (1830-1914) offers graduate students an opportunity to expand their knowledge and critical understanding of nineteenth-century literature and culture. The responses of writers to cultural change in this period, provoked—and continue to provoke—animated debate about language and literature, aesthetics and politics, and the objects and purposes of cultural criticism.
English Faculty staff teaching on this course have a wide variety of interests, and encourage a wide range of critical perspectives. Areas of special strength include the history and practice of cultural criticism, literature and science, English and world literature, transatlantic cultural exchange, theatre and drama, life writing, material culture, comic and nonsense literature, aestheticism and decadence, poetry and poetics. Individual profiles are available on the English Faculty website.
The MSt programme comprises four main components spread over three academic terms, through which you have the opportunity to pursue interests within your chosen MSt strand, as well as across period boundaries. In the first two terms, you will take a core course (A), a compulsory course in book history and theories of text (B), and choose two courses from a wide range of options (C). Under the guidance of a specialist supervisor you will also research and write a dissertation, which is submitted at the end of the third term.
A. Core course: Literature, Contexts and Approaches
The core course for this MSt is formally non-assessed but compulsory. It aims to further students’ knowledge of the literature in the period 1830-1914, and to deepen their sense of established and emerging critical debates in the field. The course ranges across genres and modes, engaging with theatrical works, poetry, and prose writing, and classes draw on both primary and secondary texts. Each class involves student presentations (on which feedback is provided).
Topics for discussion vary each year, but the following list gives an indication of various topics that have been studied in recent years: ‘Matthew Arnold and the Boundaries of “Culture”’; ‘Science and the Interdisciplinary’; ‘Psychology, Madness, and Sanity’; ‘Nature, Evolution, Environment’; ‘Comedy and Culture’; ‘Theatre, Performance, Performativity’; ‘The Nineteenth-Century Child in Theory and Practice’; and ‘Essayisms’. The central aim of this course is to provide a solid foundation for advanced literary study in the period.
B. Core course: Bibliography, Theories of Text, History of the Book, Manuscript Studies
This is a compulsory, assessed course, taught via a range of lectures and seminars in each of the first two terms. It provides an introduction to bibliography, book history and textual scholarship as they apply to the study of literature. This course is designed to enable you to:
- use and appraise a range of approaches to studying the material form of books;
- understand the process of making books in the machine-press era (1800–1950);
- explore describe the physical features of printed books;
- analyse how the meaning of a text is shaped by its medium (print or manuscript);
- understand the roles of authors, printers, and publishers in the production and distribution of books; and
- apply and evaluate textual critical approaches to dealing with the problems of material texts.
Topics for discussion vary each year, but the following list gives an indication of various topics that have been studied in recent years: ‘Book History and Literary Study’; ‘Manuscript, Print, and Meaning’; ‘Making Books’; ‘Authors, Publishers, and Copyright’; ‘Textual Criticism and Theories of Reading’; and ‘Investigating Illustration’; ‘Serialisation’; and ‘Celebrity’.
C. Special options
The special option courses present an excellent opportunity for you to develop and pursue your research interests, whether related or unrelated to other work undertaken as part of the MSt degree. You are not constrained to follow option courses within the designated period, and indeed, option courses often traverse the boundaries of the broad periods. The courses are taught in weekly, small group seminars. Students read a range of primary and secondary texts in advance and engage in discussion during the seminars, often led each week by one or two student presentations. These are not assessed formally but students are given verbal and written feedback on them.
Examples of past ‘C-course options include: ‘The Body in Victorian Literature, Science, and Medicine’; ‘Senses of Humour: Wordsworth to Ashbery’; ‘Proto-Modernism and the Novel: Joseph Conrad and Nineteenth-Century Contexts’; ‘Women and Drama; ‘Literatures of Empire and Nation, 1880-1935’; and ‘Queer Identities in Fin de Siècle Literature and Culture’. Options change from year to year, depending on the availability of faculty members and on their current teaching and research interests.
You will write a 10,000- to 11,000-word dissertation on a subject of your choice but related to the work you have been doing over the year. In the first term of the MSt you will be assigned to a member of academic staff who will act as your supervisor. Students will have the opportunity to present their dissertation ideas at a one-day conference that they organise in conjunction with the faculty office, usually at the start of Trinity term. Each student on the course gives a 10-minute presentation on their work in progress, with the opportunity to receive feedback from their peers and the course convenors.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Faculty of English and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of English.
The programme is assessed via the submission of four pieces of coursework. In addition to the dissertation, you will submit three essays of 5,000 to 6,000 words – one at the end of the first term, and two at the end of the second term – relating to the ‘B’ and ‘C’ courses that have been taken. All course work will be completed by the end of the second term (Hilary term), leaving the summer term (Trinity term) to complete the dissertation, which is submitted in June. The outcomes of the MSt examination are pass, fail, merit, or distinction. Candidates must achieve a pass mark on each element of the examination to be awarded the MSt.
Many English taught-course students go onto doctoral research, both at Oxford and at other universities worldwide. Other graduates pursue careers in occupations including teaching, journalism, law, publishing and the civil service.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the Faculty of English Language and Literature
Entry requirements for entry in 2022-23
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in English literature and/or English language, or exceptionally a related subject.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 (with at least 3.85 in the major) out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
- Publications are not required and the English Faculty does not expect applicants to have been published.
- There is no automatic transfer from a taught to a research course. Current students wishing to be considered for the DPhil programme submit applications that are assessed and considered alongside applicants with master's degrees from other universities.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. The After you apply section of this website provides further information about the academic assessment of your application, including the potential outcomes. Please note that any offer of a place may be subject to academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions may vary depending upon your individual academic circumstances.
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- Socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot on selection procedures and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- Country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- Protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
After an offer is made
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer letter will give full details of your offer and any academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
The facilities for English graduate students in Oxford are outstanding. In the faculty building you will find superb computing resources, a graduate common room, a café and an excellent discipline-specific library.
The English Faculty Library holds over 110,000 volumes and a wide range of print journals; it also provides regular information skills training to support teaching and research in English. Graduate students have access to all of Oxford's libraries, numbering over one hundred and including the world-famous collections of the Bodleian Library.
You will have the opportunity to hear lectures and papers by leading writers, critics, and theorists from inside and outside the University. You are encouraged to participate in the many research seminars and reading groups that run throughout term time, many of which are coordinated by graduates themselves.
There is an active and lively graduate organisation funded by the faculty, English Graduates at Oxford (EGO), that organises study skills, training and career development seminars, as well as social events and conferences.
The Faculty of English Language and Literature is by far the largest English Department in the UK and has a very distinguished research record, awarded top grades in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. The department was voted the top university for English language and literature in the Independent’s Complete University Guide 2011 and in the 2016 QS World University Rankings. Teaching has been graded ‘excellent’ in every quality assurance review.
The faculty currently has 80 permanent members of academic staff, including 9 statutory professors. This is in addition to a further 100 or so members teaching in the colleges and temporary members of staff. There are currently around 900 undergraduate students (with roughly 260 admitted each year to the single honours school and a further 20 to joint honours school programmes). The Oxford English Faculty has the largest graduate school in the country, with approximately 95 master's students, with a further 120 graduate research students. For the publications and research interests of particular faculty members, please consult their individual webpages.
Students on the MSt programme will have access to unrivalled library and archival resources. The Bodleian and college libraries hold wonderful collections of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century manuscripts and printed texts from Britain, America and beyond, many of them by men and women who studied at Oxford or spent a period of their lives in the city. They include materials relating to Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, ‘Lewis Carroll’, Arthur Hugh Clough, ‘Michael Field’, G. M. Hopkins, Benjamin Jowett, John Keble, Edward Lear, John Henry Newman, Walter Pater, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, Mary Shelley, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Anthony Trollope, Queen Victoria, Mrs Humphry Ward, Oscar Wilde. The Benjamin Disraeli papers preserve the great bulk of Disraeli’s private papers and correspondence; Somerville College holds the major part of the private library of John Stuart Mill and one of the best Edward Lear archives in the UK.
There are extensive collections relevant to women’s education in the period, and the Oxford History Faculty provides regular updates on Bodleian and other archival sources for nineteenth-century women’s history. There are also fascinating collections of periodicals and ephemera, including the John Johnson Collection of printed materials about popular entertainment, the book trade, print making, advertising, and observations of politics, race, class, crime and punishment, and much else. The Bodleian has recently digitised its complete collection of the photographs of William Henry Fox Talbot. The Ashmolean Museum is home to a rich variety of Victorian and Edwardian paintings and art objects, with Thomas Combe’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite art at its centre. It also holds excellent collections of objects from Asian, African and other cultures for students with comparative interests.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2022-23. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the faculty's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2022-23
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2022-23 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,215 and £1,755 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2022-23, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSt in English (1830-1914):
How to apply
You are not expected to contact an academic member of staff before you apply.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 1,000 words
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
Your statement will be assessed for:
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study and the nature of the course applied to
- commitment to the subject
- evidence of a defined set of research interests.
Your statement should indicate your academic interests rather than personal interests, achievements and aspirations.
Either two essays of a maximum of 2,000 words each or one essay of a maximum of 4,000 words
Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts from longer pieces are welcome but should be prefaced by a note which puts them in context.
It is preferable for your work to be related to the subject area you intend to study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- analytical and critical acumen
- ability to construct and defend an argument
- powers of expression.
To submit one longer piece of work in your application, upload your work as written work in your application and for the second piece of written work, upload the following text as a PDF or Word document:
"I have included one long essay in lieu of the two short essays as permitted by the department."
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
The Faculty of English expects three academic references in all but exceptional cases, and never fewer than two academic references.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement and motivation.
Start or continue an application
Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.
Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.
Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.
Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds who meet the eligibility criteria;
- residents in a country on our low-income countries list (refer to the eligibility criteria);
- current Oxford graduate taught students applying for readmission to an eligible course; and
- additional applications to selected research courses that are closely related to your first application.
Step 5: Start your application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.