The University of Southampton

ENGL2085 The Enlightenment Body

Module Overview

What is the connection between the mind, body and soul? How are reason and emotion related? Can our bodies be ‘read’ by others? Does society require the body to be regulated? What does it mean for a body to be diseased, disordered or disabled? Prompted by landmark works of philosophy, new accounts of human physiology, and shifting cultures of religion, these questions came under intense scrutiny in eighteenth-century Britain. As such, they were both shaped by and reflected in the literature of the period, and have come to be understood in subsequent scholarship as evidence of ‘the Enlightenment’. Through an exploration of a range of texts - from philosophy to poetry, novels to non-fiction – you will be able to identify what is at stake in these questions, to reflect on the ways in which different authors chose to represent them, and to consider the implications of the various answers that they offer. This module shares a focus on the body and identity with Fantasy, Film and Fiction (ENGL 3015), in which you can develop your thinking with reference to the twentieth century.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

Introduce you to the key intellectual, cultural and literary debates and discourses relating to the body in the eighteenth-century. Enable you to encounter a range of textual forms and genres which shaped the reading landscape of eighteenth-century England: philosophical and medical writing, novels, periodical essays, poems, treatises, satire, picaresque and the literature of sensibility and sentiment. To encourage you to reflect on the ways in which texts both influence and are influenced by wider cultural, historical and intellectual contexts.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The key texts studied, including issues of language, form, and genre.
  • The location of these texts within wider contexts.
  • An appreciation of the interactions between texts during the period.
  • The contribution made by these texts to the development of key discourses and debates.
  • Key issues within the secondary criticism on this topic.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse texts and other forms of evidence individually and as part of a small group. Present your work in front of your peers.
  • Research, plan and write formal assignments, to appropriate academic standards
  • Evaluate your own work and the work of your peers and identify areas for improvement.
  • Use a range of online and library-based resources for effective research
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Read confidently and critically across a range of genres.
  • Reflect on the relationship between texts and contexts.
  • Trace the development of key ideas over time and in different sources.
  • Think conceptually about the idea of the ‘body’.
  • Evaluate different critical approaches to the subject.


This module will explore the representation and significance of bodies within a range of texts of different genres from the period 1680 to 1800, some of which are well-known, and others, much less so. We will approach the topic from a number of perspectives: 1) drawing on thematic and formal features of primary texts; 2) in the light of related discourses of the body, including medicine, philosophy, religion, theatre, and fashion; 3) by considering the significance of gender; 4) by exploring the history of ideas relating to the body. Key themes that will be discussed include: ? theories of mind-body relation, the role of perception and experience in the production of knowledge and understanding. ? Eighteenth-century accounts of the passions: the relationship between passion and reason and the expression of passions via the body. ? Physiological theories regarding perception: impression, fluids, and vibrations. ? Sensibility, sentiment, and sympathy: development and critiques. ? Forms of bodily regulation: particularly in relation to politeness and religious enthusiasm. ? Morality and the body. ? Health and sickness, of both mind and body. Texts will be clustered around these themes but we will be reading them broadly chronologically. This will allow you to trace the development of ideas and discourses over time, to examine the importance of textual form and genre, and to consider issues of influence and dialogue between the works.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly lecture Weekly seminar Individual consultations and feedback sessions with the tutor Individual and group presentations Individual study and research Use of online resources and primary sources

Preparation for scheduled sessions80
Wider reading or practice18
Completion of assessment task28
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

George Cheyne (1991). The English Malady (1731). Extracts from Sections I, II, III and the Roy Porter Introduction. 

Henry MacKenzie (1771). The Man of Feeling. 

Choudhury, Mita and Laura J. Rosenthal (2002). Monstrous Dreams of Reason: body, self and other in the Enlightenment. 

The Spectator. Selected essays. 

Porter, Roy (2004). Flesh in the Age of Reason. 

Tobias Smollet (1771). The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker. 

Access to primary texts via ECCO, EEBO. Web resource

McMaster, Juliet (2004). Reading the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel. 

Access to research and criticism via Delphis and WebCat. Web resource

Jonathan Swift (1732). The Lady’s Dressing Room. 

Jonathan Swift (1734). A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed. 

Barker-Benfield, G.J (1992). The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 60%
Essay  (1500 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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