London in Literature, 1837-1984
This course considers the theme of London in English literature. Both the city and the literature it has inspired will be material for our study: we will go out and about, as well as discussing the city on the page.
We shall begin with a consideration of Dickens’ exploration of the dark aspects of early-Victorian London, and analyse the function of his extraordinary comic inventiveness. We shall also examine the relationship between "nature" and "culture" in texts about London, a central dichotomy in the works of, for example, Hardy, Wilde, and Martin Amis. The importance of the historical background to the texts we are studying will be a regular focus of attention: in Wilde ("Decadent" London); Conan Doyle (the detective, London and Imperialism); Elizabeth Bowen (the impact of the Second World War on London); Martin Amis ("Postmodernist" London). Students will be encouraged to explore areas of London for themselves in order to think about the relevance of particular places to the texts we are studying.
This course aims to give students an awareness of the variety of ways in which writers approached and expressed the changing idea of 'the city' in literary texts. We shall explore a number of themes that link early-Victorian reflections of the city to those of later writers, for example: alienation; cultural change; loss of spiritual faith; class; the 'primitive' beneath the 'civilised' city.
By the end of the semester you will have gained these skills:
- a knowledge of some important novels, short stories and other texts about London
- an awareness of different styles of writing about London from the Victorian to the Postmodernist period
- an understanding of how a variety of London writers have responded to significant historical events
- the ability to analyse a short piece of prose
- an ability to explore the literary landscape of the city and make their own discoveries
Teaching and learning methods
The method of teaching will consist of lecturing, seminars and student introductions to particular topics. There will be field-trips to the Dickens House Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the Geffrye Museum and London Fields, where the relevance of the area to a number of texts we study will be considered directly.
The three hour teaching block will be arranged as follows: the first session will consist of a general lecture on that week’s author and a question-and-answer session. This will be followed by a short break and seminar discussion. We shall also focus on passages from particular novels, short stories and poems of the period.
Coursework and assessment
|Assessed component||Basic requirements||Weighting||Deadline|
|Critical analysis paper||1200 words||20%||Week 5|
|Presentation and synopsis||One seminar introduction and a brief written synopsis of it (250 words)||20%||Week 13|
|Participation||Class participation throughout the semester||20%||Week 14|
|Mid-term essay||2500 words||40%||Week 9|
|Examination||Answer 2 questions||40%||Week 14|
- Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (1837).
- Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four (1890).
- Thomas Hardy, ‘The Fiddler of the Reels’, in Life’s Little Ironies (1891).
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).
- Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies (1930).
- Elizabeth Bowen, ‘Mysterious Kôr’ and ‘In the Square’ (both stories were first published in 1942), in The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen (1980). Various poems about the Second World War will be handed out to students.
- Martin Amis, London Fields (1984).
Useful background reading
- Peter Ackroyd, London, The Biography (2000).
- Bernard Bergonzi, The Turn of the Century: Essays on Victorian and Modern Literature (1973).
- J.M. Golby (ed.), Culture and Society in Britain, 1850 - 1900 (1986).
- Sally Ledger, ‘The New Woman and the Crisis of Victorianism’ in Cultural Politics at the fin de siècle, edited by Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst (2001).
- Roy Porter, London: A Social History (1994).
- Iain Sinclair, ‘Skating on Thin Eyes: The First Walk’, from the novel Lights Out for the Territory (1997), pp. 1-54.
- Michael Slater, Charles Dickens (2010), chapters 5 and 6.
- Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert (eds.), The London Encyclopaedia (1983).
- Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (1973).