Vagabonds in modern fiction and film

Course Dates: 14/01/21 - 18/03/21
Time: 12:30 - 14:30
Location: Online

“I aint got no home, I’m just a roamin’ round” (Woody Guthrie). This class explores the figure of the vagabond and representations of hardship and the road in works by celebrated authors and filmmakers. From Charlie Chaplin and George Orwell to Woody Guthrie and Agnès Varda, we investigate the historical and cultural contexts of the image of the vagabond in 20th century literature and cinema.

This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.


What is the course about?

This class looks at different representations of the figure of the vagabond in 20th century literature and film, from Chaplin to Jean Genet. In the introductory session we will explore the historical backdrop to the emergence of the vagabond from the Elizabethan period, through picaresque literature, and up to the 19th century, before investigating a range of major 20th century texts and films that put a spotlight on the vagabond and his/her place in society in different national, political, artistic and economic contexts.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

We consider a rich selection of works by American and European writers, including Chaplin, Orwell, Guthrie, and Genet, to scrutinize the shifting representation of the vagabond and artistic engagement with the subjects of travel and displacement in important texts and films. We will look at the following authors and film makers:

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
Joseph Roth, The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1939)
Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory (1943)
Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal (1949)
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (1980)
Film: Charlie Chaplin, The Tramp (1915)
Film: Jerry Schatzberg, Scarecrow (1973)
Film: Terence Malick, Days of Heaven (1978)
Film: Agnès Varda, Vagabond (1985)

Second-hand copies of paperbacks are very cheaply available and films are available to view online. See no.6 for further information.

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

• Have developed their literary, cinematic, historical, and cultural knowledge and expression, through varied reading on the subject of the vagabond in literature and film.
• Students should develop understanding of key literary and cinematic works on poverty and displacement, and knowledge of the thematic, historical, literary and political contexts of the vagabond in literature and film.

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

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

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

The class will be held in 2-hour sessions over ten weeks. The first hour will be an interactive talk on the text, writer/director, themes and contexts. The following hour will be a round table and small group discussion of the texts/films in detail.

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

Just bring along a copy of the relevant text for discussion each week. Films and texts are either free online or cheaply available to view online and/or to borrow from local libraries. Excerpts will also be played in class. Prior viewing and reading is the only requirement.
Texts: George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933); Joseph Roth, The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1939); Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory (1943); Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal (1949); Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (1980)

Films: Charlie Chaplin, The Tramp (1915); Jerry Schatzberg, Scarecrow (1973); Terence Malick, Days of Heaven (1978); Agnès Varda, Vagabond (1985).

All the films can be found on Youtube either for free or for a small rental fee of £2.50 (thought this is not mandatory), and the books can be got through or amazon.

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

Look for other courses in Literature and Film Studies under History, Culture and Writing on the website at

Tutor Biographies
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.

This course has now started

Course Code: HLT62

Started Thu, day, 14 Jan - 18 Mar '21

Duration: 10 sessions (over 10 weeks)

Full fee: £189.00
Senior fee: £151.00
Concession: £115.00

Or call to enrol: 020 7831 7831

Any questions?
or call 020 7492 2652

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.