HIS32330 A History of Decadence: Sex, Spectacle and Corruption in Eighteenth-Century Venice

Academic Year 2023/2024

The modern myth of Venice is a composite of two powerful images: Venice as the city of pleasure and Venice as the city of death. This course will cover both.
Venice as the world centre of overpowering luxury, all-pervasive spectacle, frivolous self-indulgence and sexual licence will be examined through the accounts of eighteenth century Venetians (Casanova, Goldoni and Gozzi) and travellers from Britain, France and Germany (including, amongst others, Addison, Rousseau and Goethe). Together, they portray Venetian life in the century before the fall of the Republic in 1797 as a curiously modern combination of political and sexual intrigue in a gossip obsessed city of cafés, theatres, casinos and brothels.
Venice as the city of decadence, exquisite beauty and moral decay, sexual ambiguity and physical corruption, will be examined through her representation in British, French, German and Italian literature from Byron (in the 1810s) to Proust (in the 1920s). Writers covered will include Fenimore Cooper and Monk Lewis (on Gothic horror), Ruskin (on Gothic revivals), Dickens and George Sand (on the romance of the ghostly), Theophile Gautier (on orientalism and antisemitism) and Thomas Mann and Baron Corvo (on homosexuality and death). All texts will be read in English translation.
Students will be asked to write two essays, a midterm essay (3000 words) on an aspect of eighteenth century Venetian society or culture, and a term paper (4000 words) on an aspect of the memory and myth of Venice, chosen by them in consultation with the module coordinator.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:


On completion of the module students will have acquired a thorough knowledge of the social and political history of one of Europe's most significant cities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and of the place of Venice in the modern European imagination. They will have experimented with the use of paintings, prints, travel writing and novels as historical sources, gaining a good grounding in the methods of cultural history.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Weekly lectures provide historical and historiographical context to the eighteenth century topics discussed in weeks one to seven. From week eight, lectures become introductions to aspects of the myth of Venice post-1797 and to major writers on Venice.
Seminars in weeks one to seven involve class discussion of assigned primary texts. From week eight, seminars are devoted to discussion of the students' personal research projects. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Additional Information:

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: 4,000 word end of semester research paper Week 12 n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: attendance and participation at seminars Unspecified n/a Graded No


Essay: mid term essay Unspecified n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on midterm essays will be provided in writing on returned hard copies, after the mid term break. Feedback on end-of-term papers will one to one by appointment.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Mon 11:00 - 11:50
Seminar Offering 2 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Tues 09:00 - 10:50