ELA 12: British Literature—Semester B
Challenge the status quo through lit crit, Shmoop-style.
Shmoop is American, but when it comes to literature, we have to give props where props are due: across the pond.
Our second semester of ELA 12 will beef up your knowledge of all things Brit Lit, with a boatload of interactive readings and activities. In this Common Core-aligned course, we'll
- consider how Shakespeare can be seen in almost anything you read or watch today (he's a little more modern than you think).
- travel from Charles Dickens's London to Zadie Smith's London (hint: one of them is way more ethnically diverse than the other).
- cap things off with some creative writing and interpretive dance projects (come on, Shmooper, it's the British way).
Watch out, college. Here comes a literary theory-loving, Beatles-quoting Shmooperstar.
P.S. ELA 12—British Literature is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester B, but you can check out Semester A here.
Course BreakdownPurchase units individually *
*Purchasing by unit includes course material only.
Unit 5. Love, Longing, Lust, and Leave Me Alone
It's not your grandma's Jane Austen, Shmoopers: this unit will focus heavily on feminist and gender theory. How? Well, the central focus of Unit 5 will be on making inferences based on the social constructions that surround the framework of a novel or text, as well as drawing conclusions based on language and writing style. Seeing as though we're reading Virginia Woolf, we've…got our work cut out for us.
Unit 6. Seriously Hard Times
"Please, Shmoop, may I have some more literary theory?" Dickens fans, we thought you'd never ask. Unit 6 will focus on the social, political, and economic theory, since you mastered feminist theory in the previous unit. Special attention will be paid to sensationalist journalism, memoirs of hard knocks, and British authors who directly affected American writing and activism.
Unit 7. A Challenge to Traditions
So, colonizers learned their lessons and no one is oppressed anymore—right? Uh…notsomuch. We'll read literary theory about Post-colonialism and three very different texts—The Tempest, Wide Sargasso Sea, and White Teeth to see if the same themes play out throughout centuries of literature and tradition. Spoiler alert: they do.
Unit 8. Differences in the Future
To conclude high school, we'll end in the future—with dystopian fiction. This unit includes studies and theory about Shmoop's greatest fears: ubiquitous technology, teen exploitation, and a creative writing project. (We're kidding about one of those. You can decide which one.)
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 3: No Room to Live
Imagine that tumbledown shack J Law is living in when we first see her in The Hunger Games.
Now add another family or three, and drop it right in the middle of an already overcrowded, dangerously polluted city. That should give you an idea of some of the problems George Haw was trying to shed light on when he wrote No Room to Live in 1899.
Houses crammed up against one another, multiple families living in the same room, negligent landlords, overpricing, dirt and disease—these were all rampant in nineteenth-century England.
They weren't new problems by the time Haw was writing, either. In the last lesson, Malthus extrapolated upon one possible explanation for the persistence of poverty, but that one didn't really distinguish between rural and urban poverty. Which makes sense; Malthus was trying to explain poverty in universal terms, and the whole point of universal terms is that they're true across the board. Now, though, it's time to get down and dirty, talking about the thing Victorian London is best known for, other than maybe tea, hoop skirts, and vampires: its slums.
In a lot of ways, the slums were one of the Industrial Revolution's less bragworthy inventions (right up there with smog and the anti-drowning stovepipe hat). Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people migrated to cities—especially London—because that's where the jobs were. Unfortunately, there was very little housing to spare in the city and, in a shocking plot twist, it turned out that underpaid factory workers didn't have a lot of money to throw around on things like lawn maintenance (or lawns, period).
That was only half the problem, though. See, it wasn't as if Londoners were totally unaware that the city could use a fresh paint job; if anything, they were a little too eager for a makeover. Everyone who was anyone wanted the latest amenities, and while a lot of the city's wealthier inhabitants simply moved out to the suburbs, city planners still thought it would be a good idea to tear down entire neighborhoods to make room for things like railways. The result was a squeeze on good, affordable housing, which pushed prices higher, which led to an even greater squeeze…you get the idea. Adam Smith's predictions about increased wealth for everyone might have been a little optimistic, but he was dead-on about supply and demand.
Anyway, like we said, this was all old news by the time Haw was writing. Except, in some ways, it wasn't. To put it bluntly, it wasn't until the second half of the nineteenth century that people really started to care about what was going on in the slums, and when they did, it was largely due to people like Haw: writers who shed light on the causes and realities of slum living.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 6.3: Fun in the Slum
Why, you might be wondering, did it take so long for the Victorians to get hot under their super-starched collars when it came to the slums?
We're glad you asked.
The Slums Unseen
For much of the nineteenth century, people tended to think about the slums and their inhabitants the same way we think about the existence of murderous coconut crabs—as something vaguely unsettling, but more or less safely removed from everyday life. The Victorians could be pretty harsh on anyone they felt wasn't living up to their moral standards, and the general consensus was that the slums were mostly populated by people who had no place in "civilized" society—people like thieves, prostitutes, and used car salesmen (okay, we may have made that last one up). Point is: a lot of people didn't believe in helping those with less-than-stellar rap sheets.
That right there is part of what made writing like No Room to Live so influential. Haw didn't just describe the awful conditions that existed in the London slums; he emphasized, again and again, that the majority of people living in them were just poor workers (read: not career criminals), and he explained how overpricing and corruption had made it impossible for these people to live in a way that the middle and upper classes would regard as "decent."
Developing Reform Language
As you can probably tell from our liberal use of quotation marks in the above paragraph, it's easy to look back on the interest Haw and other Victorians took in the slums and see it as a little…old-fashioned. If you've studied American history, you may remember that the Abolitionist Movement was closely associated with other movements like Temperance—a.k.a. not drinking.
British slum activism was similar, just with posher accents; middle-class women—who gave themselves the title of Victorian England's designated guardians of everything moral and good—were heavily involved in social reform. Their social reform, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a strongly religious bent. (What did you expect? They were for Temperance.) Maybe as a result, even non-religious activists tended to rely on the same kind of rhetoric when making their case. As we'll see when we turn to Haw (and Jack London in the next lesson), a lot of the criticism of the slums revolved around the fact that they made normal family life impossible—and by "normal family life," we mean the husband out working, and the wife pregnant in the kitchen.
Allow the feminist-lens-lovin' Shmoop to roll our eyes at Victorian perceived normalcy, and continue on.
Still, let's give credit where credit is due. If writers like Haw hadn't worked so hard to draw attention to the plight of people living in the slums, it probably would have taken a lot longer for anything to be done about the problem. Plus, the whole thing was a self-sustaining cycle once it got started; Haw quotes writers like Dickens and Victor Hugo to make his case, and was then in turn read by London. Neat how that works out, isn't it?
Go ahead and read Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 12 of No Room to Live here. As you read, use your socioeconomic lens you acquired in the previous lesson, and look out for the gist of each chapter, as follows.
- Chapter 1, The Houseless: Haw draws a distinction between homelessness in the good old days and modern homelessness; whereas the homeless people of yore were generally unemployed, now even "skilled and sober workmen" have to live in workhouses because they can't find or afford housing.
- Chapter 2, The Half-Housed: Moving slightly up the scale of poverty, Haw comes to what he calls the "half-housed"—families who rent rooms and even beds they share with other families. The Victorians weren't big on bed-sharing, so this is serious stuff (and we really hope no one had lice).
- Chapter 3, The Overcrowded Fifth: This is where Haw really drops the hammer; the one-fifth of London residents living in overcrowded conditions are actually living illegally, thanks to the provisions of the Public Health Act of 1891. He doesn't blame them, though; he just wishes more would be done to ensure that everyone gets his allotted 400 cubic feet of space.
- Chapter 4, The One-Roomed Tenth: Often a subtype of the "overcrowded fifth," the "one-roomed tenth" are people who live in one-room tenements. According to Haw, living with so little privacy and space pretty much guarantees moral and spiritual decay.
- Chapter 6, The Block-Dwellers: Haw spends this chapter debunking the argument that tearing down the hovels to put up block dwellings—model dwellings set up by private companies—would solve London's problems. For one, he says, the block dwellings are not immune to overcrowding. Worse still (to Haw at least), their drab and functional appearance prevents them from truly feeling like a home to anyone living in them.
- Chapter 7, The Driven-Out: Haw follows up on the problem he first identified in Chapter 4 by explaining why kindly telling the "overcrowded fifth" that they are living in illegal conditions and are being evicted for their own good won't solve anything. They'll just end up living in workhouses or on the streets, he says, because there isn't enough available housing, and London rents are simply too high for workers to afford.
- Chapter 12, The Child Sufferers: There's nothing quite like a cute kid to drive home a point, so Haw focuses in this chapter on the children living in overcrowded areas of the city. Children, Haw says, suffer disproportionately from the physical and moral effects of overcrowding, and they often grow up sickly and unprincipled.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 6.3a: The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword Completed
Accounts like Haw's were enormously influential; in fact, the public outrage that they generated was a huge driving force behind slum reform. These days, though, it's a little hard for us to understand some of the particular concerns that writers like Haw wanted to draw attention to. In the United States, for example, diseases like tuberculosis are much less common than they once were, so the link between poverty and contagious disease doesn't get as much press.
That said, as we'll see in our next lesson, investigative journalism is alive and well—it just focuses on different issues. So here's our question, then: have you ever read something that made you want to go out and tackle a specific social ill? If so, what was the book/article/website, and why do you think it made an impression on you? Head to the discussion board and write a paragraph that draws on personal experience to discuss the book's (article's, website's, etc.) persuasiveness. Ahem: that means that your response should be a blend of reflective and analytical writing.
When you've finished, respond to two other postings, noting if that article has/has not made an impact on you, and drawing connections to Haw whenever possible. Thus, through our discussion board, activism lives.
(It's a stretch, we know…)
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 6.3b: Persuade Me Completed
How convincing is Haw? You tell us if he makes you feel ready to join the social movement, or if you still find Victorian slums about as threatening as that coconut crab across the world we discussed in our reading.
Take a quick look at this guide to review the three basic modes of persuasion. We know, we know—you've read these in ELA 11. And 10. And probably 9. So brush up on your skillz and terminology here; we know you've read this before and are ethos, pathos, and logos pros.
Then, carefully reread the following excerpts from No Room to Live.
How many times have I seen parents fight hard against this tendency of block dwellings to break up their old homelife, such as they preserved with ease in the separate house! Finally they give in. A general looseness in their home arrangements sets in, affecting children and parents alike, and in the end all the cherished idols of home are broken.
The cottage has produced great men and women, but forty years of block dwellings have produced no single character of note. This loss of home-life in London, therefore, means a loss to the nation. Our laws may be made in our cottages, but they can never be made in block dwellings. (Haw, 51)
In their [the London County Council's] various schemes they have turned out some 24,000 people, but have barely built houses for 10,000.
What of the remaining 14,000 among the Driven-out? Nay, more than 14,000: the number is more likely to be 20,000 and more, for we have already seen how very few of the people displaced ever return to the new buildings.
But have those who are driven out no claim upon the municipality? Their houses have been taken from them because they were unhealthy and overcrowded, but what good is done so long as you don't give them other and better places to live in? They can't afford the rents of the new buildings. Besides, if every family among them could, more than half would have to be turned away, as the extent of the new accommodation falls so far behind that of the old (57)
All this is equally true to-day. Of the unhappy and horrible lives, and the bitter suffering in secret, endured by the little victims of overcrowding, God only knows, and God only can know. Here are children who know nothing of childhood's joys. No lullabies are sung to them, no nursery rhymes are heard, no fairy tales related in the overcrowded hovels. " The Babes in the Wood," "Wee Willie Winkie," "Alice in Wonderland," and all the wealth of nursery lore that makes childhood golden and its memory a lasting joy, what are these to the children of teeming tenements and cellar dwellings? Rather do we find that'Dull despair and miseryIt is hard to conceive to the full what life really means to the child sufferers from overcrowding. You can never really know until you have seen them yourselves. "He who has seen the misery of man only," Victor Hugo tells us, ''has seen nothing: he must see the misery of a woman; he who has seen the misery of a woman only has seen nothing: he must see the misery of childhood (110)
Lie about them from their birth,
Ugly curses, uglier mirth,
Are their earliest lullaby.'
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- Course Length: 18 weeks
- Grade Levels: 12
- Course Type: Basic
ELA 12: British Literature—Semester A
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2