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Unit information: Dangerous Books in 2018/19

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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


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.

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

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 Details

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

Both summative elements will assess 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