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Dickens and Balzac – Vive la Différence!

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Charles Dickens and Honoré de Balzac were the defining literary geniuses of the 19th century and the creators of the modern novel. Yet their radically different styles say a lot about the contrasting cultures of Britain and France, a ‘culture war’ that persists today. Examining four of their major works, we’ll explore what made them different and what made them great.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous knowledge or study is required, although some familiarity with 19th century fiction will be an advantage.

Content of Course

1. Vive la Différence: Introduction to Balzac, Dickens and 19th century culture.

2. Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass's Skin (part 1).

3. Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass's Skin (part 2).

4. Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette (part 1).

5. Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette (part 2).

6. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (part 1).

7. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (part 2).

8. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (part 1).

9. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (part 2).

10. Towards a New Century: Compare and contrast the authors and their impact on modern fiction.

Teaching method(s)

All sessions will be a mixture of lectures and group discussions – with handouts of questions for discussion given a week in advance. Classes will be supplemented by DVD clips where appropriate. Students will be encouraged (but not required) to give short individual presentations on specific points of interest.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Identify contrasting styles of writing;

  • Discuss key differences between national schools;

  • Locate literary works within their political and social context;

  • Understand the impact of classics on modern writing;

  • Relate 19th century fiction to contemporary issues.


Core Readings

The edition shown is the one currently in print. Students may use any other edition.

  • Balzac, Honoré de. (2012). The Wild Ass's Skin. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics

  • Balzac, Honoré de. (2008). Cousin Bette. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics

  • Dickens, C. (2008). A Tale of Two Cities. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics

  • Dickens, C. (2008). Our Mutual Friend. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics

Class Handouts

Lecture notes and discussion questions for all sessions. Short extracts from other texts where appropriate.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.