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Unit information: Dangerous Books in 2020/21

Unit name Dangerous Books
Unit code ENGL20023
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Tom Sperlinger
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


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 2000 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, for example apartheid South Africa.

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a draft or outline of their final, summative essay of up to 1,500 words and to receive feedback on this.

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 details

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Assessment Details

  • 1 x 3000 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-6]

Reading and References

  • Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
  • George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
  • John Steinbeck, The Moon is Down
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Isobel Armstrong, The Radical Aesthetic
  • Barbara Harlow, Resistance Literature