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Unit information: Charles Dickens in 2015/16

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Unit name Charles Dickens
Unit code ENGL39020
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. James
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Dickens has been regarded as both a crowd-pleasing sensationalist and a highly sophisticated literary innovator. This unit seeks to put these and other definitions of the author to the test. Among the topics for exploration will be: artifice and caricature; violence, the grotesque and the carnivalesque; issues of gender and sexuality; the figure of the orphan or neglected child; the conventions of melodrama; strategies of suspense; tropes and techniques of revelation and concealment; and the development of Dickens's narrative style from novel to novel. In addition to tracing the contemporary public and critical reception of Dickens's fictions and relating these to the works of his peers, the course will draw upon modern critical preoccupations, such as narrative theories, gender theories and psychoanalysis.


Through a chronologically ordered study of at least five of Dickens's novels (and some of his short fiction and journalism), this unit will allow students to explore in depth the development of the career of one of English Literatures finest and most distinctive writers. Preconceptions about both the Dickensian oeuvre and Victorian fiction will be challenged and complicated. Much attention will be paid to character construction, narrative method, the social and political concerns of the novels, the evocation of scene and the rhetoric of sentiment. In particular, an appreciation of the overt fictitiousness of Dickens's narrative mode will inform the enquiry into his methods of composition and help to elucidate the author's subsequent mixed reception.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have:

  1. developed an understanding of the literary, cultural and socio-political contexts of Dickens's novels;
  2. gained knowledge of the range and diversity of Dickens's writings, of his importance as a literary innovator and of some of the central concerns and issues that recur in his novels;
  3. developed in-depth knowledge of selected works by means of close textual analysis and by engagement with various critical perspectives;
  4. demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument;
  5. strengthened their skills in argumentation and academic writing.

Teaching Information

1 x 2 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Information

  • 1 essay of 2,000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3,000 words (60%)

Both summative essays map onto ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

  • Oliver Twist (1837-38), ed. Philip Horne (Penguin)
  • Bleak House (1852-53), ed. Nicola Bradbury (Penguin)
  • Hard Times (1854), ed. Kate Flint (Penguin)
  • Little Dorrit (1855-57), ed. Stephen Wall and Helen Small (Penguin)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1864-65), ed. Adrian Poole (Penguin)