Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)


Department: English Studies


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The purpose of this module is to investigate how key Victorian literary figures used public lectures and public appearances to create a necessary exposure and self-revelation, whilst they also worried about giving too much away and of becoming the victim rather than the controller of celebrity.
  • It will trace the impact of crucial lectures, lecture tours and public appearances by such figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oscar Wilde, Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin,William Morris and Charles Dickens.
  • It will examine the lecture at both its greatest height and at the beginnings of its demise as a centre for intellectual and cultural life, as well as demonstrate the consuming power of what Matthew Arnold experienced as 'blazing publicity'.
  • This module will widen the varieties of approach offered to taught postgraduates, and to introduce interdisciplinary perspectives through the use of aspects of intellectual and cultural history.
  • It will enable students to gain a more nuanced understanding of both Victorian writers and the culture to which they belonged, by situating them back in this key moment of encounter between the writer and his audience.
  • The module will introduce the study of a range of texts associated with the idea of the public lecture and public appearance, including both the subsequently published version of the texts delivered, as well as press reporting of these moments and other kinds of evidence as to their literary and cultural importance (diaries, memoirs, representations in novels etc).
  • It will involve the examination of the historical and intellectual contexts of these various kinds of material as well as close textual analysis.


  • This module will explore a series of key lectures and other public appearances by writers in the Victorian period. The module will begin with R.W. Emerson's hugely influential lecture tour of Britain in 1847, which was both a literary success and a public sensation. The module will show Emerson's example of a frank and natural style at the lectern, a display without histrionics or conscious theatricalisation, would influence such British contemporaries as Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin and Matthew Arnold, convincing them that the public lecture was an apt forum for the expression of their views, providing them with a more direct sense of an influential audience and public that they could set out to inspire and shape. Later seminars will see this transatlanticism reversed and analyse the tours of the United States and Canada undertaken by first Oscar Wilde and Matthew Arnold, in the early 1880s. The module will gauge the effect of Wilde's distinctive voice, whilst considering the ways in which the tour began the process by which Wilde became a kind of prisoner of the public in his desire to conduct his career at the level of the high pitch of celebrity. Arnold will provide a counter-example, in his visible shrinking back from the kinds of public exposure that the American tour subjected him to. Other matters for analysis will be the relationship of the public lecture to politics, and in particular a focus on William Morris's conception of his audience as a potential political avant-garde, to be inspired by the lecturer to leave the lecture-hall and to begin to put his socialist beliefs into practice. The representation of the public lecturer, in literature, art and the press, will also be a matter for serious consideration: we will examine in particular Henry James's novel, The Bostonians, with its account of the fortunes of the inspiring feminist speaker, Verena Tarrant, and the module will also consider, as a related but distinct form, the impact of Charles Dickens' public readings of his own work, and the thrilling but troubling (they endangered his health) example they set of the writer in performance. The course will conclude by considering the possible fall of the public lecture as a centre for intellectual life at the very end of the nineteenth century, as the twin pressures of academic specialization and literary modernism caused authors to begin to look elsewhere for the means to promote themselves and their work.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students will be able to:
  • articulate their in-depth knowledge of the importance of the public lecture in Victorian culture;
  • to demonstrate a sophisticated awareness of the forces and considerations that made the public lecture central to Victorian culture;
  • to demonstrate insight into the particular pressures and constraints felt by writers when confronted by an 'actual' audience;
  • to understand complex debates about the unstraightforward relationship between cultural authority and celebrity in the period;
  • to appreciate the development and influence of cultural and literary traditions
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary texts;
  • an ability to demonstrate advanced knowledge of a chosen field of literary studies;
  • an ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature;
  • an ability to articulate and substantiate at a high level an imaginiative response to literature;
  • an ability to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the cultural, intellectual, socio-political and linguistic contexts of literature;
  • an ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical literary material;
  • an advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical literary terminology.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Through a variety of teaching activities and approaches, seminars will facilitate the development of communication and critical skills. Sessions will introduce broad topics and genres, contexts and frameworks to aid conceptual understanding and specific texts for analysis as well as encourage individual interpretation and enquiry. Formative written work and consultation with the module tutor will operate as learning tools, allowing the investigation and testing of ideas and readings. Two summative assignments will assess the competencies and outcomes outlined above and foster advanced independent study.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Fortnightly 2 hours 18
Formative essay handback 1 15 minutes 0.25
Preparation and reading 281.75
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 1 3,000 words 50%
Summative essay 2 3,000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

One essay of not more than 2,000 words.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University