BA English Literature and American Studies

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Sex, Disease and the Body: 1660-1800

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL33081
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No



In this course, we will explore how eighteenth-century British writers and artists represented the body, paying particular attention to the intersections between the body and sexuality and/or health.   We’ll consider different kinds of bodies—male versus female, healthy versus diseased, black versus white, old versus young, human versus animal—as well as different bodily processes, from sexual function to excretion.  We’ll also consider the various metaphors used to conceptualize the body and its uses (or abuses). Was the body a gift from God?  A commodity to be bought and sold via practices like prostitution or slavery?  A machine? A network of vibrating nerves? Looking at a range of art and literature produced between 1660 and 1800 (including cartoons, caricatures, engravings, poems, and novels), we will consider how and why eighteenth-century writers and artists imagined sex, disease, and the body. 


 - to analyse different theories of the body’s functions and processes and how they relate to imaginative portrayals of the body between 1660 and 1800
- to discuss different metaphors used to conceptualize the body and bodily processes in eighteenth-century literature and art
- to consider issues like gender and sexuality, race, aging, and how they affect representations of the body 
- to read works in a range of different genres and media, including cartoons, caricatures, popular engravings, poetry, novels, and non-fiction prose
- to engage with selected critical writings on eighteenth-century texts.
- to develop skills of critical thought, speech, and writing.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:
- demonstrate familiarity with eighteenth-century works in a range of different genres (verse, allegorical prose, fictional prose, etc).
- discuss how ideas about the body developed in the long eighteenth century.
- discuss how theories about the body influenced, and were influenced by, representations of the body in imaginative literature and art.
- discuss how different bodies (the body politic, the body natural, the king’s body, the female body) and body parts were represented in the eighteenth-century imagination.


Intellectual skills

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:
- identify and explicate some of the changes in formal literary and artistic practice that occurred over the course of the long eighteenth century
- situate the works of several eighteenth-century writers and/or artists within their historical and cultural contexts


Practical skills

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:
- use textual evidence to formulate convincing critical arguments about course texts
- summarize and engage with the arguments in secondary texts
- generate thoughtful written work on course texts and themes
- speak clearly and articulately on course texts and themes

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:

- demonstrate skills of critical reading and critical thought
- present observations and arguments clearly and articulately
- construct clear, well-supported, and thoughtful critical prose
- engage in courteous and constructive discussion and/or debate with other seminar participants.

Assessment methods

Seminar participation 10%
Essay 45%
Exam 45%


Feedback methods

 Students will be offered
- an optional meeting for formative feedback on the presentation
- formative and summative written feedback on the presentation
- an optional meeting for formative feedback prior to submission of the essay
- summative written feedback on the essay
- a meeting, after submission of the essay, to discuss summative feedback and provide formative feedback for the exam
- summative written feedback on the final exam (on request)

Recommended reading

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year* (you must buy the Penguin edition)

William Wycherley, The Country Wife

poetry by John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester 

poetry by Jonathan Swift

Tobias Smollett, Humphry Clinker (Penguin edition)*

Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (OUP edition)*

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (OUP edition)*

We will also study graphic art by Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, and others.  

Works marked with an asterisk must be purchased or checked out from the library.  All other course texts and images will be made available on the Blackboard site for the course. 

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Noelle Gallagher Unit coordinator

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