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The University of Southampton

ENGL3094 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. 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 the long eighteenth century - 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.

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 and interpret a range of textual forms and genres: philosophical and medical writing, novels, periodical essays, poems, treatises, satire, and the literature of sensibility and sentiment. 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 primary texts within their wider contexts.
  • An appreciation of the interactions between texts during the period.
  • The contribution made by the primary 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.
Cognitive 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.
  • Formulate and support an argument about a primary text.


This module will explore the representation of bodies within a range of texts from 1680 to 1800, some of which are well-known, and others much less so. We will approach the topic from a number of perspectives, examining the thematic and formal features of primary texts, and assessing how depictions of the body in fiction draw on Enlightenment ideas, and sources such as medicine, philosophy and the theatre. Whilst the precise syllabus will vary from year to year, topics of study may include: • Theories of mind-body relation; • The role of the body, 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; • Eighteenth-century understandings of identity categories such as gender, sexuality and race, and how these play out on the body; • Physiological theories regarding perception, bodily constitution and disease: impression, fluids, and vibrations; • Sensibility, sentiment, and sympathy; • Forms of bodily regulation and discipline, particularly in relation to politeness; • Morality and the body; • Maternity and the family; • 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

Teaching methods include • Lectures • Seminars • Workshops • Office hours for individual advice and consultation Learning activities include • Experience of small group work • Experience of individual and group presentations • Individual study and research • Use of online resources and primary sources • Office hours for individual advice and consultation This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Wider reading or practice12
Preparation for scheduled sessions74
Completion of assessment task28
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Laqueur, Thomas, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1990). 

Maria Edgeworth, Belinda (1801). 

Todd, Janet, Sensibility: an introduction (London: Methuen, 1986). 

George Cheyne, The English Malady (1731) [extracts]. 

Eliza Haywood, The Masqueraders (1724-25). 

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

Choudhury, Mita and Laura J. Rosenthal, Monstrous Dreams of Reason: body, self and other in the Enlightenment (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2002). 

Access to primary texts via ECCO and EEBO.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). 

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

McMaster, Juliet, Reading the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). 

Peakman, Julie, Lascivious Bodies: A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century (London: Atlantic Books, 2004). 

Wahrman, Dror, The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004). 

A dedicated Blackboard site with recommended reading lists (primary and secondary) and links to relevant websites, databases, and digitised versions of certain texts.

Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740). 

John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748). 

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818). 

Access to research and criticism via DephiS and WebCat.



Group presentation


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1500 words) 30%
Essay  (3000 words) 70%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

There are no particular cost implications, although you will need to provide your own stationery equipment. Most critical essays, monographs and primary texts will be available via the Library. However, you may wish to purchase key literary texts, and can do so cheaply second-hand and/or online. The cost of doing so should not exceed £40.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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