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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 Breakdown

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 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

A super-creepy etching of a zombie-looking man with a dagger.
Life in the slums would have been hard enough even without the hybrid ghost-zombies.
(Source)

Imagine that tumbledown shack J Law is living in when we first see her in The Hunger Games.

Got it?

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.