Charles Dickens and the Condition of England (EAS3165)

StaffProfessor John Plunkett - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module aims to provide an examination of the career of probably the most successful and influential of all Victorian novelists, Charles Dickens. It will particularly focus on the way his novels portrayed the dramatic changes in the social structure of industrial Britain from the 1840s- 1870s. Seminars will focus on a number of Dickens's major novels, including Bleak House, Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities and Dombey and Son, exploring social and literary issues such as comedy, class relations, sentimentality and melodrama, gender relations, modes of narration, his relationship to the realist novel, and cityscapes. In addition to Dickens's major works, the seminar will focus on the evolution of Dickens's career as an exemplar of the changing role of the Victorian novelist and the growth of the literary marketplace. Seminars will draw on material from the University of Exeter Special Collections in order to explore Dickens's role as editor of Household Words and All the Year Round. Other topics to be discussed include Dickens's public readings and his literary celebrity, modes of publication, and his extensive journalistic output.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. A thorough understanding of the major novels and Charles Dickens and the evolution of his carrer as a novelist.
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the social, cultural and political changes of the Victorian period, particularly the Condition-of-England question
  • 3. Demonstrate an awareness of many of the key aesthetic, commercial, and political influences on the work of Charles Dickens

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the novels of Charles Dickens and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 8. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 9. Research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 10. Through research and writing, demonstrate an advanced capacity to make critical use of secondary material, to question assumptions, and to reflect on their own learning process

Syllabus plan

1. Sketching London

2. Christmas Books

3. Steam, Industry, and Globalisation: Dombey and Son

4. Victorian Publishing (I): Fiction in the Marketplace

5. Victorian Publishing (II): Dickens as Editor

6. Bleak House and The Condition of England  

7. Bleak House andthe Great Exhibition

8. TheIndustrial City: Hard Times

9. Writing Revolution: A Tale of Two Cities

10. The Bildungsroman: Great Expectations

11.  Selected Journalism

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Seminar
Scheduled learning and teaching activities11Seminar
Guided Independent20Group Preparation and Meetings
Guided Independent157Reading, Research and Essay preparation
Guided Independent70Seminar Preparation (Individual)
Guided Independent20Web-based research into Victorian primary sources (periodicals, newspapers)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Critical Commentary 251500 words1,2,3,4,5,6, 8,9,10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Group Project 25Equivalent to 1500 words1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay 503000 word Essay1,2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Critical CommentaryCritical commentary1-6, 8-10Referral/Deferral Period
Group Project1500 word Essay1-6, 8-10Referral/Deferral Period
EssayEssay1-6, 8-10Referral/Deferral Period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (Penguin Classics, 2003)

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics, 2003)

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (Oxford World's Classics, 2008)

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son (Penguin Classics, 2006)

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Penguin Popular Classics, 2007)

Charles Dickens, Hard Times (Penguin Classics, 2003)

A selection from Dickens's journalism and Sketches by Boz, together with related contextual readings will be made available on ELE.

Selected secondary texts

Holly Furneaux, Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Chris Brooks, Signs of the Times: Symbolic Realism in the Mid-Victorian World (Allen and Unwin, 1984)

Sally Ledger, Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Rosemary Bodenheimer, Knowing Dickens (Cornell UP, 2007)

John Jordan, ed., Palgrave Advances in Charles Dickens Studies (Palgrave, 2006)

Juliet John, Dickens's villains: melodrama, character, popular culture (Oxford University Press, 2001)

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Last revision date


Key words search

Dickens; Victorian; the city; industrial revolution; comedy; emotions; realism.