London in Literature

ENGL3013

(Course Convenor: Dr Neil Rennie)

London is both market-place and theatre, a centre of display and consumption, a festive place but also a site of alienation and loss of identity. The aims and objectives of the course are to define the imaginative opportunities this great and contradictory city has afforded; to evaluate the literary uses to which writers have put these opportunities; and to guide students in thinking about urban literary culture both historically and theoretically: historically, in terms of the way London itself, and representations of London, have changed over time; theoretically, in terms of some of the genres through which London has been mediated (‘city comedy’, Grub Street journalism, detective fiction) and the conceptual ‘frameworks’ which have shaped interpretation (e.g. the recurring association of urban experience with positive or negative ideas of modernity).

Because the representation of the city has an important visual dimension, the course makes room for a significant amount of visual material (painting, photography, prints and book illustration, film).

The first term will consist of a programme of lectures on historical and thematic subjects. There will be seminars on set works and authors from different historical periods. In 2012/13 the set texts were: Middleton, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside; Gay, Trivia: or the Art of Walking the Streets of London; Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year; Hazlitt and Lamb, selected essays; Dickens, Oliver Twist; Conrad, The Secret Agent. These texts are subject to change at the course planning meeting which will take place in the summer of 2014. In the second term there will be further lectures on historical and thematic subjects, and sign-up seminars on topics chosen by individual teachers. In 2012/13 some of the seminar topics were: London in 21st-century Novels; London Poetry; Criminal Minds; Re-imagining London. This list, too, is intended only as an example; because of the availability of teachers sign-up seminars are subject to greater variation than seminars on set texts.

An annotated reading list will guide students in their choice of works and topics for individual study (including tutorial essays). Students are also encouraged to visit the Museum of London and other museums and galleries, and to bring their own experience of London’s topography, architecture, and culture to their work on the course.

Examination is by means of a 3-hour written paper, or by Course Essay, if preferred and if no other Course Essay is being submitted by the candidate in that year.