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WLIT100 Greek and Roman Classics: Origins of Western Literature

Unit rationale, description and aim

Now the dominant and most innovative form in world literature, the novel is a relatively new genre of imaginative writing, that opened up new ways of understanding and articulating human experience. The eighteenth century is widely regarded as the foundational period for modern literary culture.

In this unit, students will study the emergence of a range of literary genres related to the novel in the context of Britain's and Europe's expanding and competing global ambitions. The unit explores the interaction of this literary form with some of the key philosophical, political, cultural and social issues of the period. Students will read some of the most significant early novels by such writers as Defoe, Richardson, Sterne, Fielding, Godwin, Austen, Dickens, Eliot and James. They will study the writers, the writing, and the social and intellectual milieu that underpinned the emergence of this exciting literary genre, and the richer more self-reflective inner world it enabled.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe theoretical approaches towards and broad knowledge of key works in the novel form (GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9) 

LO2 - Communicate clearly in written and/or oral form, in a style appropriate to a specified audience, using disciplinary terminology and analysis (GA1, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9) 

LO3 - Locate, analyse and evaluate literary, social, historical, philosophical, political, aesthetic or ethical ideas and movements in the emergence of the novel form in order to formulate an intellectually-grounded evidence-based argument (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10) 

LO4 - Apply disciplinary knowledge, methods and skills to research and interpret debates about the novel form as it has evolved over time (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics may include: 

  • Literary, social, historical, philosophical, political, aesthetic or ethical ideas and movements in the emergence of the novel form
  • Early forms of the novel – Cervantes and Behn
  • Novels and the world outside – Swift and Defoe
  • Novel of Marriage and Morality – Richardson and Austen
  • The Gothic Novel – Radcliffe and Shelley
  • Social realism – Dickens and Eliot
  • Continental novels – Flaubert and Tolstoy
  • American novels – James, Melville and Stowe, Northup and Harriet Wilson

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is designed and delivered in small-group face-to-face mode which facilitates the use of the Socratic method. It will immerse students in active learning through cooperative dialogue designed to stimulate critical thinking and challenge pre-existing assumptions. Learning exercises will facilitate the development of skills fundamental to the discipline of literary studies and to facilitate the interaction of students with guest speakers, when available. In addition to close reading of a range of novels, or extracts of novels, students will participate in writing activities, interpreting and evaluating texts, and critical and argumentative debates


This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This 200-level unit is designed to include assessment tasks that build content knowledge and higher order research and analytic skills. 

The close reading task requires students to demonstrate a capacity to apply considered critical responses to novels in the Western canon.

The class presentation task requires students to present and defend verbal argument in relation to a particular novel in the Western canon and encourages all students to provide feedback and critique to their peers.

The research task develops skills in relation to proposing an argument and locating and evaluating sources on the novel form, developing a sustained evidence-based argument, and active engagement with key literary debates.

The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high-quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for second-year studies in the subject area.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Close reading task 

This task requires students to produce analyses which take this context as well as the specific genre or style into account.


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9

Class presentation 

This task requires students to present and defend a verbal argument related to the unit content


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9

Research task 

a)   Research proposal 10% 

b)   Research essay 40% 

This task requires students to propose and sustain an evidence-based argument. 


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

---. How Novels Think: The Limits of Individualism, 1719-1900. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Caryl Emerson. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010. [1975].

Davidson, Cathy N. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

LaCapra, Dominick. History, Politics and the Novel. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

McKean, Michael. Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002 (revised edition).

Moore, Steven. The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600. London: Continuum, 2011.

O’Connell, Lisa. The Origins of the English Marriage Plot: Literature, Politics and Religion in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Keen, Suzanne. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001 [1957].

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