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

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
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7 30 (15) PROF J 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

Total Contact Hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 280
Total Study Hours: 300


Spring term in 2019/20

Method of assessment

Assignment (5,000 words) – 100%

Indicative reading

Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually

Boswell, J. 2008. The Life of Johnson. London: Penguin.
Burney, F. 2002. The Witlings. Peterborough: Broadview.
Haywood, E. 2000. Love in Excess. Peterborough: Broadview.
James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) (Penguin)
Johnson, S. 2008. The Major Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pope, A. 2010. The Dunciad Variorum. London: The British Library.
Smith, C. 1993. The Works of Charlotte Smith. New York: Oxford University Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the nature and evolution of literature, genre and authorship in the period between the 1720s and 1790s;

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

3. 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;

4. 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.

5. Engage with complex issues and articulate their conclusions confidently and clearly in spoken and written work;

6. Demonstrate intellectual independence;

7. Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of advanced research skills relevant to the course;

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


This module cannot be condoned or compensated for MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies students

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