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Appreciating English Literature


On our English Literature distance learning course you will have a chance to read and write about English Literature from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. All the best-known and best-loved writers are included, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Boswell, The Romantic Poets, Jane Austen and Dickens, as well as others usually known only to those who study the subject at university.

The course consists of nine lessons which progress chronologically through the periods of English Literature. At the end of each of the first eight lessons you will be asked to answer questions which are designed to bring out some of the most important and interesting aspects of the texts you have read, and in the ninth you will be invited to write an essay of your own choice on one of a selection of modern authors.

Your tutor will be a graduate in English Literature, with a flexible approach, enabling people of a wide range of educational backgrounds to enjoy the course. Those who wish to use the course as an introduction to English Literature without answering the set questions, or giving only brief answers, are welcome to do so, while those who wish to give longer responses to the questions are also welcome. The important factor is that you enjoy the reading, and relish the challenge of thinking in greater depth about what you read, while being free to approach the written work at whatever level suits you best.


Course Syllabus

  1. Lesson 1: The Beginnings of English

    In the first lesson we look at the evolution of the English language, and the work of the first great English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.
    Main reading:
    From Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales: 'The Prologue', 'The Pardoner's Tale', 'The Nun's Priest's Tale'.

  2. Lesson 2: The Renaissance (1)

    The second lesson introduces the cultural revolution known as the Renaissance, then takes us to Elizabethan England to study the growth of English drama, pre-Shakespearean drama, then Shakespeare himself.
    Main reading:
    Shakespeare,The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV parts I and I

  3. Lesson 3: The Renaissance (2)

    In this lesson we study Shakespeare in more detail and see why his work stood out from that of his contemporaries. We then look at some of the poetry of the period.
    Main reading:
    Shakespeare: Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet. A selection of Elizabethan and Jacobean poetry

  4. Lesson 4: The Age of Reason

    This lesson takes us into the England of the late 17th, and 18th Century, the England of Samuel Pepys, Alexander Pope, and Boswell and Johnson.
    Main reading:
    James Boswell, The Life of Johnson. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels. Alexander Pope, selected poems.

  5. Lesson 5: The Novel

    In this lesson we trace the origin and development of the English novel.
    Main reading:
    Selections from: Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe. Richardson, Clarissa Harlowe. Sterne, Tristram Shandy. Smollet, Humphrey Clinker. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility. Thackeray, Vanity Fair. Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield.

  6. Lesson 6: The Romantic Movement

    The sixth lesson shows how the Romantic Movement emerged as a rebellion against 'The Age of Reason', which we covered in Lesson 4, and produced some of the most beautiful and memorable poetry in the language.
    Main reading:
    Selected poems of: Wordsworth. Coleridge. Shelley. Keats.

  7. Lesson 7: The Theatre

    Lesson 7 picks up the story of English drama from where we left it in Lesson 3, taking us through Restoration drama and up to Oscar Wilde.
    Main reading:
    Extracts from Congreve, The Way of the World. Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer. Sheridan, The Rivals and The School for Scandal. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest.

  8. Lesson 8: The Victorians

    In Lesson 8 we pick up the story of the development of the novel from where we left it in Lesson 5. We then look at the work of the essayists Carlyle and Ruskin, the major Victorian poets, Tennyson and Browning, and the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
    Main reading:
    Selected poems of Tennyson and Browning. Selections from the novels of: George Eliot, George Meredith, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy

  9. Lesson 9: The Twentieth Century

    The final lesson brings us into the 20th Century, looking at writers such as T S Eliot, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, D H Lawrence, and John Osborne. There is no set reading, but some poets, novelists, and dramatists are recommended, and you may choose your own essay subject

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