The University of Southampton

ENGL3003 Rakes and Libertines

Module Overview

Libertinism is defined by more than sex, but, with its emphasis on the senses and the need to follow one’s natural desires, it’s a good place to start. Drawing on a Hobbesian account of desire as self-interest and nature as a state of war, libertinism’s championing of the senses is also a means of exploring ideas of domination, relativism and individualism. At its most extreme it mounts a moral case for immorality, denotes a scepticism about the power of reason, and rejects Christian humanist ideas of a universal order and man’s place in it. We will be exploring the ways in which writers from Hobbes to Byron engage with the figure of the libertine and will trace changing ideas of sexuality and their relationship with cultural authority and social convention.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to a range of writing which addresses the relationship between power, sexuality and cultural through the figure of the rake or libertine • encourage you to interpret the texts studied in relation to their wider contexts, and in particular to the gender politics of the long-eighteenth century

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • libertine literature from the Restoration to the Romantic period
  • the significance of and distinctions between rakes and libertines
  • the literary, philosophical and social contexts in which libertine literature was produced
  • C18th understandings of sexuality and gender politics
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • carry out your own research on a topic
  • work effectively as part of a group in solving problems
  • organize and lead a public discussion
  • engage with, and develop, ideas presented to you on the spot
  • Demonstrate intellectual independence in your writing
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse complex written texts and visual images
  • work directly from primary sources
  • critically evaluate secondary sources
  • analyse texts in terms of their wider (historical, social, political) contexts
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • explain changing responses and representations of rakes and libertines with reference to historical, political and cultural context
  • make connections between literature of different periods and different genres
  • analyse and comment in detail on poetry, drama, essays, novels and philosophical texts


The module will draw on a range of genres from the philosophy of Hobbes and the drama of Behn and Etherege, to sentimental and gothic novels, the poetry of Rochester and Byron, and Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni. For full details:

Special Features

Knowledge and understanding will be developed through attendance at lectures, individual reading and individual research for essay work. Seminar preparation and discussions will help you in the close analysis of a wide range of literary and visual sources. Individual consultation and feedback sessions on essays will help you improve your written style and bibliographical skills. Running a seminar will develop transferable skills in developing an agenda, maintaining focussed but flexible discussion, and speaking to and engaging with an audience.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures • Seminars • Office hours for individual feedback on essays Learning activities include • Office hours for individual feedback on essays • Experience of organizing and running a seminar • Individual study and research • Accessing and evaluating online resources Innovative or special features of this module • Small groups of students run each seminar and act as tutor for the session • Detailed module website with additional study materials and further questions

Independent Study252
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Samuel Richardson. Pamela, ed. Keymer. 

Ann Radcliffe. The Romance of the Forest, ed. Chloe Chard. 

Warren Chernaik (1995). Sexual freedom in Restoration Literature. 

ed. Scott McMillan. Restoration and Eighteenth-century Comedy (it includes three of the four texts you need for the first two weeks). 

Daniel Defoe. Roxana, ed. Mullan. 

Rochester. Complete Poems and Plays, ed., Paddy Lyons. 

George Gordon, Lord Byron. Don Juan. 

For full details.

Mathew Lewis. The Monk. 

Jane Austen. Pride & Prejudice, ed. Vivien Jones. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 65%
Examination  (2 hours) 35%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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