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Unit information: Dangerous Books in 2015/16

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Unit name Dangerous Books
Unit code ENGL20023
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Tom Sperlinger
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Can works of literature only reflect society, or might they be a catalyst for reform? If a book has an urgent political message, can it also become a lasting work of art? Why might a work of literature be considered dangerous? In what circumstances are books banned? And conversely, what does this tell us about the power of literature, including in consciousness-raising or as a form of protest or resistance? This unit will explore these questions and others, through a reading of imaginative and non-fiction works from c. 1800 to 1980 that might be thought to constitute a ‘radical’ tradition. Texts to be studied will include fiction of various kinds, including socially realist works and political allegories; essays and polemics; and literary texts in English from other cultures, including apartheid South Africa.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have had an opportunity to

(1) develop a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of literary works in the nineteenth and twentieth century that might be thought to constitute a ‘radical’ tradition in the period;

(2) develop an in-depth understanding of some of the historical and political contexts that inform this literature;

(3) engage with questions about whether literature may be a didactic, dangerous, powerful or revolutionary medium and consider the implications of these ideas for related questions in aesthetics and reception;

(4) demonstrate the ability to analyse and evaluate differing critical accounts of the primary literature;

(5) demonstrate the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument;

(6) strengthen their ability to articulate their ideas through academic writing.

Teaching Information

Normally 1 x 2-hour seminar per week; or an equivalent number of hours across the teaching block (e.g. if taught outside normal hours for students on the BA English Literature and Community Engagement).

Assessment Information

  • 1 essay of 2000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

Both summative elements will assess ILOs 1-6.

Reading and References

  • William Hazlitt, Selected Writings
  • Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist
  • George Orwell, Animal Farm
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People
  • Isobel Armstrong, The Radical Aesthetic
  • R.H Tawney, The Radical Tradition: Twelve Essays on Politics, Education and Literature
  • Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution