Literary London: from Shakespeare to Sherlock

Dr George Yeats

Literary“Literary London: from Shakespeare to Sherlock” guides students through a body of writings as stimulating, diverse, and complex as the city that inspired them.

In the pages of these works students will encounter some of the key characters, episodes and landmarks that have defined over three centuries of London’s literary, cultural and material histories, from the culture clashes between the Puritans and cut-purses (ie: thieves) of the Renaissance city to the war-damaged, shell-shocked dystopia of Elizabeth Bowen’s Blitz stories. The course thus explores the myriad of ways in which London has been perceived, documented and imagined: as a den of vice, a triumph of civilization, and a theatre of dreams.

The core extracts and texts, to be studied in chronological order, will be organized under four topic areas: ‘Counter Cultures and Underworlds’ (Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera); ‘Disease, Sickness, and Disorder’ (Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Charles Dickens’s Bleak House) , ‘Crime, Detection and Order’ (Bleak House and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories), ‘Modernity and Sur-reality in Twentieth-Century London’ (Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, ‘Street-Haunting’ and Elizabeth Bowen’s short stories).

Alongside consideration of the unique qualities of specific authors and works students will be encouraged to consider how London, and the experience of it, has contributed to the development of such narrative genres and styles as theatrical satire, the Realist novel, the detective story, and stream of consciousness narrative.

Our literary critical discussions will also have an interdisciplinary dimension in being illuminated by concepts from a variety of neighbouring domains including the history of medicine, urban theory and psycho-geography.

This course is aimed at: This course is aimed at those interested in exploring how London has inspired the imaginations of writers and how writers have endlessly reimagined London. While it may be of special interest to English Literature Majors/specialists the texts will appeal to anyone curious in the literary histories and mysteries of the British capital. The course is open to those majoring/specialising in all disciplines.

Transferable skills: Students will acquire the following skills: the ability to appreciate and analyse the works; to read not only for plot but also for more complex political, ethical and psychological implications; the capacity of constructing, defending and revising an interpretation of a text; the capacity to verbal present and argue for your critical interpretations.

Pre-requisites: Students should read specified sections from Ben Jonson’s “Bartholomew Fair”, John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” and Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House” before the course begins. Before beginning the course students will receive notification of precisely which sections from these works constitute required advance reading. A taste for drama and fiction and complete fluency in English are essential.


Note that extracts from or copies of all texts will be supplied in a course reader with the exception of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House which must be purchased separately.

  • Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair [1614], ed. by Suzanne Gosett (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).
  • John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera [1728], ed. by Vivien Jones and David Lindley (London: Methuen, 2010).
  • Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year [1722], ed. by Louise Landa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
  • Charles Dickens, Bleak House [1852–53], ed. by Nicola Bradbury (London: Penguin, 2003).
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of the Red-Headed League’ [1891], ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ [1891], ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ [1892], ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain’ [1904], ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’ [1904] and ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans’ [1912] in The Complete Stories (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1996)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway [1925], ed. by Stella McNichol (London: Penguin, 2000) and ‘Street-Haunting’ [1927] and ‘Oxford Street Tide’ [1932] in Selected Essays, ed. by David Bradshaw [2008] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Elizabeth Bowen, ‘Mysterious Kôr’, ‘The Happy Autumn Fields’ [1945] in Collected Stories (London: Vintage, 1999).


1 Final Essay (2,500-3,000 words): 50%

1 Final Exam: 50%

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)