Hacks, Dunces and Scribblers: Authorship and the Marketplace in the Eighteenth Century - EN832

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
(version 2)
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7 30 (15) PROF JE Batchelor







This module explores the construction and contestation of authorship between the publication of Alexander Pope's brilliant Grub Street satire, The Dunciad (1728) and of James Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1791). In this period, notions of authorship underwent significant change as the image of the author as craftsman (or less flatteringly as tradesman) gave way to the image of the author as original creator or genius – an image that still informs our understanding of authorship to this day. Through an exploration of a wide variety of novels, satires, periodicals, and biographies, as well as visual images we will explore how the modern author’s fortunes were shaped by such factors as the decline of the patronage system, the growth and democratisation of the literary marketplace, the emergence of the woman writer and the labouring-class or unlettered genius.

Topics for discussion will include the myth and reality of Grub-Street; the gendering of authorship; the relationship between authorship and nation; the economics of authorship; the birth of the literary critic; canon-formation; literary celebrity and scandal.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

This module will be taught by 10 weekly two hour seminars. Time will also be made available for individual essay consultations.

Method of assessment

Students will be assessed on the basis of one piece of written work of 5000 words on topics of their own devising, in consultation with the module convenor.

Preliminary reading

Jane Barker, A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies (1719) [coursepack]
Alexander Pope, The Dunciad (1728), in The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt (Routledge, 1992) [also available online]
Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess (1725)
Samuel Johnson, The Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744) and selections from The Lives of the Poets (1778), reprinted in The Major Works of Samuel Johnson (World’s Classics)
Robert Dodsley, The Footman’s Friendly Advice (1732); A Muse in Livery (1732); Trifles (1777) [coursepack]
Stephen Duck, Poems on Several Occasions (1736) [coursepack]
Ann Yearsley, Clifton-Hill (1785) [coursepack]
James Macpherson, The Poems of Ossian and Related Works (1762) [coursepack]
Charlotte Smith, Elegiac Sonnets (1784) [coursepack]
Frances Burney, selections from the Letters and Journals [coursepack]
Frances Burney, The Witlings (1779-81)
James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) (Penguin)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

Students who take this module will:

develop an understanding of the nature and evolution of literature, genre and authorship in the period between the 1720s and 1790s

engage with current debates in the field of eighteenth-century studies, particularly those surrounding authorship and the evolution of the literary marketplace

apply and interrogate the wider historical narratives within which early eighteenth-century texts are commonly read, including the demise of manuscript culture and the decline of the patronage system, the rise of the novel, the ascendancy of the woman writer, and the birth of the critic

assess the benefits of studying literature in relation to the technologies and practices that governed textual production in this period, such as technological advances in book publishing, author-publisher relations, and legal definitions of the author-text relationship

be able to engage with complex issues and articulate their conclusions confidently and clearly in spoken and written work

demonstrate intellectual independence

develop a comprehensive understanding of advanced research skills relevant to the course

demonstrate a conceptual understanding of current scholarship in the discipline and ability to interrogate the insights and arguments of this scholarship

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