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Unit information: Charles Dickens in 2020/21

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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


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: character, caricature and psychology; violence and criminality; comedy and grotesquery; supernaturalism; sexuality; social critique. Through the study of several full novels, along with extracts, short stories and some of Dickens's journalism, this unit will allow students to explore the diverse qualities of one of English Literature's finest and most distinctive writers. Preconceptions about both the Dickensian oeuvre and Victorian fiction will be challenged and complicated. 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. The unit will suit students with an appetite for reading some long novels; registered students will be asked to read at least one of these (Bleak House) before the teaching begins.

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:

  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 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 3500 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Indicative Texts:

  • Bleak House (1852-53), ed. Nicola Bradbury (Penguin Classics)
  • Hard Times (1854), ed. by Kate Flint (Penguin Classics)
  • Great Expectations (1860-61), ed. Charlotte Mitchell (Penguin Classics)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1864-65), ed. Adrian Poole (Penguin Classics)
  • Selected Short Fiction, ed. by Deborah A. Thomas (Penguin Classics)