Great essayists: humourists, firebrands and provocateurs

Course Dates: 23/10/23 - 11/12/23
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: Keeley Street
From Henry David Thoreau and George Orwell to James Baldwin and Rebecca Solnit, the essay exists as a literary vehicle for urgent ideas in a range of skillfully controlled literary voices. This class examines the work of classic essayists, delving into the work of both impassioned and reflective non-fiction writers.
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Full fee £179.00 Senior fee £143.00 Concession £116.00

Course Code: HLT156

Mon, day, 23 Oct - 11 Dec '23

Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)

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What is the course about?

The course explores the work of a range of celebrated essayists, examining the ways in which major writers have treated in detail diverse political, cultural, and personal subjects. Through a detailed look at the non-fiction of influential writers, the course examines the style, structure, and content of seminal essays in the context of the histories that produced them and which they sought to change.

What will we cover?

By looking at an exciting range of texts and various political and stylistic approaches to the essay, the class explores engaged writers questioning of the literature, culture, politics, and progress of the modern world. In eight sessions, the class will look at a celebrated and influential essay each week, with each text exploring an important personal, political, literary, or cultural topic. Examples of the material we will cover are the following:

o Henry David Thoreau, “The Last Days of John Brown” (1860)

o Ida B. Wells, “Lynch Law in America” (1900)

o Virginia Woolf, “Street Haunting: A London Adventure” (1927)

o George Orwell: “A Hanging” (1931) and “Shooting an Elephant” (1936)

o James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village” (1953)

o Saul Bellow, “My Paris” (1983)

o Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)

o Rebecca Solnit, “Men Explain Things to Me” (2012).

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Have developed their literary, historical, and cultural knowledge and expression, through varied reading on the literary essay.
• Students should develop understanding of key individual essays and essayists.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

No particular skills are needed other than an interest in literature and reading.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

The class will be held in 2 hour sessions over eight weeks. The first half hour will be an interactive talk on the text, writer, themes and contexts. The remainder will be a round table and small group discussion of the texts in detail.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No other costs. The lecturer will supply electronic copies of the essays.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look up other fiction and literary non-fiction courses under History, Culture and Writing/Literature on our website at

Richard Niland

Richard Niland has published widely on Joseph Conrad and a range of other 19th and 20th century writers. He taught for many years at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow and is interested in the various intersections of literature, culture, politics, music and film in different global contexts.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.