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Representing the City, 1750-1850 - ENG00032M

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

Module summary

London in this period was the largest city in the world, a centre of global commerce as well as of the expanding British empire. This course aims to introduce students to a range of textual and visual representations of the metropolis between 1750, which saw the completion of Westminster Bridge, and 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, David Hume described the city as a place offering opportunities for self-improvement where “both sexes meet in an easy and sociable manner; and the tempers of men, as well as their behaviour, refine apace.” But this idealized sense of the city as a place of polite social interaction and cultural progress was also widely contested. In debates about the appearance of London in the middle decades of the century, for example, urban planners articulated concerns that London’s dirty, ill-paved, and narrow streets offered no such opportunity for polite intercourse, and indeed that the streets of London might shame the nation in the eyes of foreigners. In dialogue with the satires of Hogarth, novels by writers such as Eliza Haywood and Fanny Burney depicted London as a site of social pleasure but also sexual danger for their protagonists. By the early nineteenth century, representations of the city more frequently (if humorously) focused on the street as a site of contest and confrontation, a place where the unwary walker was jostled, splashed, and dirtied in his attempts to find a way through the urban crowds. If Wordsworth saw London as a place where it was impossible to find the necessary calm in which to write poetry, however, contemporaries – most famously William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb – explored and sometimes embraced the newly emergent identity of ‘the Londoner’. Towards the end of this period, writers and artists including Dickens and Mayhew increasingly engaged with the social stratification of the city. They sought to uncover the lives of the urban poor, drawing sharp contrasts between London’s status as centre of a rich and powerful global empire and the daily lives of those left behind in the race for progress and commercial prosperity.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aim of this course is to explore literary and visual representations of London in the period between 1750-1850, with reference to other cities.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a wide range of works addressing the city between the middle of the eighteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth century.

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with some the key concerns and debates about the city as presented in various literary and visual accounts of the city.

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with the representation of London

  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
4,500-word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4,500-word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You are provided with feedback within the 6-week University deadline.
  • You are always welcome to use staff Open Office Hours to discuss essay feedback
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see section 12 of the department's Guide to Assessment
  • Full details can be found at:

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading:

John Gwynn, London and Westminster Improved

Oliver Goldsmith, The Citizen of the World

Frances Burney, Evelina

William Wordsworth, Book VII of The Prelude

Mary Robinson, “Present State of the Manners, Society, Etc. Etc. of the Metropolis of England”

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz

Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor

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.