Skip to main content

Unit information: Darkest London in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Darkest London
Unit code ENGL29026
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Matthews
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


London has been visited by disaster many times, both in real and fictional forms. Plague, fire, war, crime, terrorism, hardship and homelessness are recurring motifs in representations of the city, whether as responses to historical events or fantasies of destruction and renewal. Yet perversely even when the city is prosperous, powerful and secure, it condemns and destroys many of its citizens. Ranging from Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), one of the first works of 'docu-fiction', to the apocalyptic gangster film The Long Good Friday (dir. John Mackenzie, 1981), the unit studies works by writers, film-makers, and artists who have created some of the most powerful and imaginative responses to life, death and disaster in the 'Great Wen' since the Plague (1665) and Great Fire of London (1666).


  • To give students knowledge of a range of works from different periods and in different genres which focus on London as infernal, apocalyptic or benighted;
  • To equip students with appropriate literary, theoretical, socio-historical, topographical and other contexts to enable an informed understanding of the primary texts;
  • To engage with the creative psychology of writings which represent London as plague-stricken, burning, bombed, or threatened by the 'secret agents' of terrorism
  • To practice skills of close analysis and critical argument informed by relevant contexts in oral and written forms.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students should be able to:

  1. demonstrate knowledge of a range of relevant London literature and film;
  2. apply appropriate contexts to enable an informed understanding of the primary texts;
  3. analyze these works using sophisticated critical methods including historical, theoretical, and aesthetic paradigms;
  4. articulate their views in discussion and on paper with the appropriate skills.

Teaching details

One x 2 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

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

Both summative essays map ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

  • Roy Porter, London: A Social History (1994)
  • Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821)
  • George Gissing, The Nether World (1889)
  • Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear (1943)
  • The Long Good Friday (dir. Mackenzie, 1981)
  • Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor (1985)