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Writing Eighteenth-Century London - ENG00018H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alison O'Byrne
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

Samuel Johnson famously proclaimed that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Pleasure gardens, assemblies, theatres, masquerades, and promenades offered opportunities for social mixing and social performance to those attending. For some, the city offered opportunities for improvement as well as entertainment, a place where, according to Hume, “both sexes meet in an easy and sociable manner; and the tempers of men, as well as their behaviour, refine apace.” But other writers were less convinced of the city’s ability to ‘improve’ its inhabitants. For some writers, London embodied the ills of modern life, including an indiscriminate social mixing that was more likely to corrupt than to improve, and a highly commercial book trade in which anyone could have anything published, regardless of quality. Whether they loved it or hated it, London offered writers an opportunity to reflect on and address a range of issues. This course will begin by considering contrasting representations of London in order to establish a sense of the tension between politeness and its others in the period. This uneasy relationship will inform our readings over the course of the term, which will also examine the ways in which writers and artists reworked old and invented new genres in an attempt to get to grips with a city that seemed a place of constant flux and instability. Possible writers discussed may include Jonathan Swift, John Gay, Alexander Pope, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Samuel Johnson, Daniel Defoe, Eliza Haywood, James Boswell, William Hogarth, Frances Burney, and William Wordsworth.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aim of this module is to explore the representation of London in literary and visual texts across the eighteenth century.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students should be able to demonstrate the following:

  • A good knowledge of how eighteenth-century writers represented the city;
  • An awareness of a range of eighteenth-century genres;
  • A sense of how representations of the city were used to address broader concerns;
  • An ability to bring together close reading skills with contextual analysis.



Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines



Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Key texts for this module may include:

  • Jonathan Swift, selected poems
  • Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders
  • John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera
  • Henry Fielding, Miss Lucy in Town
  • William Hogarth, The Harlot’s Progress
  • Samuel Johnson, selected writings
  • Frances Burney, Evelina
  • William Wordsworth, selected poetry

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.