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Unreal City? London In Literature From 1800 To Today

Fiction writers are often the first to identify and analyse a social phenomenon. We will examine over two centuries of London history through the eyes of novelists and poets, from William Blake to Zadie Smith. In this way, London's social and economic history will be revealed through imaginative writers' eyes.
  • Who is it for?

    Anyone with an interest in London history. No previous skills or knowledge are necessary, but curiosity and an appetite for reading will be helpful.
    No advance reading is required as this is a general survey course. However, the extracts for us to consider together in class will be provided ahead of the first session, and perusing these in advance is recommended.

  • What does it cover?

    Week 1: The late-18th century to the mid-1830s. Romantic London - Wordsworth, Blake, Thomas De Quincey. Regency London - bucks, bruisers, dandies, men-about-town. The Newgate Novel - amoral tales of villains. The 'silver fork novel' of High Society.

    Week 2: The mid-19th century: Dickens, crime, policing and detection. The slums of St Giles. Edgar Allan Poe. Dostoevsky in Haymarket. London's first time-travel fantasy.

    Week 3: The late 19th century. 'Slum fiction', disaster/dystopian fiction, science fiction, Sherlock Holmes and the rise in detective fiction.

    Week 4: The Inter-War Years: the Roaring Twenties, Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf. The Depression of the Thirties, Patrick Hamilton, Simon Blumenfeld, Pamela Hansford Johnson.

    Week 5: War and postwar. Horror, science fiction, post-modernism, social upheaval and mass migration. Colin MacInnes, Nigel Kneal, Nell Dunn, Sam Selvon, Margaret Drabble, BS Johnson.

    Week 6: 1980 to Today. London during the Thatcher years, multiculturalism, new-Victorianism, thrillers, crime writing.

  • What will it be like?

    Learning will be by minilecture and class seminar/group discussion. Extracts will be shown on PowerPoint; and will have been sent out in advance.

  • What else do I need to buy or do?

    Nothing. Extracts from the works to be explored will be supplied by the tutor.
    If learners wish to read the entire works following the course, almost all, up to the final session (Week 6), are now out of copyright and so can be found online in various free-to-download formats.

  • What could it lead to?

    Self-directed study: detailed further / secondary reading lists are supplied by the tutor for this purpose. Further course in Literature or history at the Centre or elsewhere

Available Courses

Unreal City? London In Literature From 1800 To Today

Fiction writers are often the first to identify and analyse a social phenomenon. We will examine over two centuries of London history through the eyes of novelists and poets, from William Blake to Zadie Smith. In this way, London's social and economic history will be revealed through imaginative writers' eyes.

14 January 2025 – 18 February 2025
Tuesday, 18:30 to 20:30
Course Code:451
£87 / £30
6 Meetings
High Street, Stratford
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Meet The Tutor

Course Detail

Sarah Wise teaches 19th-century social history and literature to undergraduates and adult learners and is visiting professor at the University of California’s London Study Center.

Her debut book, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. It was the inspiration for Sky’s The Frankenstein Chronicles.

Her follow-up, The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum, was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize, and was the basis for the BBC’s series The Victorian Slum.

Her most recent book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy and Liberty in 19th-Century England, was shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize. She is currently writing its follow-up, to be published in 2024.

 

For more information contact The Departmental Administrator at admin@marywardcentre.ac.uk

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