- Department: English and Related Literature
- Module co-ordinator: Dr. Emma Major
- Credit value: 20 credits
- Credit level: H
- Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
- See module specification for other years: 2022-23
The French Revolution in 1789 marked the beginning of intense debate in Britain about liberty and society, equality and order, justice and happiness. Literature was seen as the key site for these new imagined world orders; it was the realm in which imagination, politics, and philosophy could converge. ‘Few engines can be more powerful, and at the same time more salutary in their tendency, than literature’, observed the radical philosopher William Godwin in 1793; and his Tory opponent, T.J. Mathias, agreed him on this point, arguing in 1797 that ‘LITERATURE, well or ill conducted, IS THE GREAT ENGINE by which, I am fully persuaded, ALL CIVILIZED STATES must ultimately be supported or overthrown.’
This module explores the fascinating responses in Britain to the French Revolution, exploring a range of writers and genres. The French Revolution had initially been understood by many British commentators as the French version of Britain’s Glorious Revolution (1688-9). But as the French Revolution unfolded, conservative and radical observers were shocked by its violence and extent. We will focus on the intense decade of the 1790s and encounter some of the most dazzling writers of this (or any) age: Edmund Burke’s conservative dream of nation was followed by Thomas Paine’s assertion of the rights of man; Mary Wollstonecraft championed the rights of woman, wrote a history of the Revolution, and published an extraordinary account of her trip to Norway, Sweden and Denmark; William Godwin transformed people’s lives through his philosophical writings and wrote thrilling novels demonstrating his philosophical beliefs in action; Anna Laetitia Barbauld published anonymous tracts asserting the right of the people to participate in government, wrote brilliant poetry, and transformed educational writings; Helen Maria Williams published letters from France celebrating the newly liberated nation; and William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge revolutionised poetry. This is a time of writing revolution, of exhilaration and despair, and of great hopes for the transformative powers of literature.
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The aims of this module are to explore British responses to the French Revolution, and to discuss the nature and role of literature at the end of the eighteenth century.
On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:
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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
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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.
Core texts will include Tom Paine, The Rights of Man; Helen Maria Williams, Letters written from France; Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark; William Godwin, Caleb Williams.
Core authors, whose works we will look at in excerpted form, include Richard Price, Edmund Burke, and Anna Laetitia Barbauld.
Some texts will be chosen by the group: suggested titles might include Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; or The Transformation, and Memoirs of Carwin, The Biloquist; Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis, The Monk ; Coleridge and Wordsworth, conversation poems and Lyrical Ballads; Mary Hays, Memoirs of Emma Courtney; Robert Bage, Hermsprong; and of course other works by Wollstonecraft or Godwin.
This is a fabulous period; please explore writing of the period for yourselves through anthologies such as Travel Writing 1700-1830: An Anthology, ed. Elizabeth A. Bohls and Ian Duncan (Oxford UP), and Women's Writing 1778-1838.: An Anthology, ed. Fiona Robertson (Oxford UP), as well as the Paul Keen’s superb Revolutions in Romantic Literature (Broadview Press) or the useful Romanticism, ed. Duncan Wu (Blackwell).