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Literature, Medicine, & Metropolis, 1785-1850 - ENG00096M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Jon Mee
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

Death! Disease! Literature! This module examines the relationship between literature and medicine in an age of urban expansion and industrial revolution, roughly 1785­-1850, especially in London and the northern manufacturing cities of England. It will look at a range of literary and medical texts, including Thomas Malthus massively influential Essay on Population (1798) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). We will consider how fictional and non­fictional texts treat not only medico­-literary ideas like the imagination, taste, and sensibility, but also questions of bio­-politics and medical ethics in a period of profound political, cultural, and scientific change. Within this broader field, particular questions emerge. How was the body conceived and what was its relation to the mind? Who controlled the body? How were the bodies of others conceived? What does the idea of a 'social body' convey? And how did literature and medicine relate to broad anxieties about disease and infection as the experience of mass urban life developed? Was literature part of the cure, or a medium of infection? Was the poet a kind of cultural physician or part of the problem? How were bodily pleasures understood to relate to literature? Addressing a period in which both literature and medicine were being professionalized as distinct spheres, this module explores their complex interrelationship in a rapidly changing world.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aim of this module is to introduce you to the relationship between literature and medicine in an age of urban expansion and industrial revolution, roughly 1785­-1850, especially in London and the northern manufacturing cities of England.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a range of texts - fictional and non-fictional - that explore the idea of the health literal, moral, and otherwise, of the individual and social body in the newly industrial world of Britain 1785-1850.
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the development of the early years of the industrial revolution as a context for these various texts, and a sense of how these texts fed into and shaped these contexts.
  3. Evaluate key literary and historical debates within the relevant critical fields pertaining to the body as a locus for anxieties surrounding the health of society more generally in the early decades of the industrial revolution.
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills in relation to these issues, including a sense of how they related to anxieties about the health - literal and moral etc - of our own supposedly post-industrial society.


Task Length % of module mark
4500 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will hand in an essay of approximately 2,000 words in Week 6 of the Autumn term. The main purpose of the essay is to ensure that the department can identify those students who may require additional assistance with academic writing skills. Material from the procedural essay may be re-visited in either one of the January essays or the dissertation. It is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. The title topic of the essay, like the title topic of all assessed work for the degree, is left open to the individual student.

The summative assessment for this module is 4500 words (or an agreed equivalent), developed out of the formative weekly responses. Students may decide to write primarily on 'literary' texts or various interventions in the wider discourse around questions of medicine and metropolis, such as, Malthus's Essay on Population.


Task Length % of module mark
4500 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback on summative essays is normally available by the end of Week 6 of the Summer Term. Students are encouraged to discuss their feedback with their MA convenor, module tutor, or supervisor.

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821)

John Ferriar, Medical Histories and Reflections, 3 vols (1792-8)

Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (1848)

Thomas Malthus, Essay on Population (1798)

Coleridge and Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads (1802 ed)

Alan Richardson, Romanticism and the Science of the Mind (Cambridge, 2001)

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826)

John Thelwall, An Essay towards a Definition of Animal Vitality (1793)

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.