To study English Literature at City, University of London is to learn how words can make things happen.
City, University of London is situated in historic Clerkenwell. Adjoining the only part of the medieval City (other than the Tower) to escape destruction in the Great Fire of 1666, this is a region rich in literary and historical associations, an extraordinary place to study English literature. The name of the district itself reflects this, being derived from the Middle English term for a literate person, clergyman or student: London’s Parish Clerks performed Mystery Plays here in the Middle Ages, a cycle of short theatrical pieces enacting stories from scripture. William Shakespeare brought the manuscripts of his plays to the great medieval gateway built by the Knights of St. John, for approval by the Lord Chamberlain before they could be performed. And a nervous Queen Elizabeth I spent the night before her coronation in the Charter House that still stands in Charter House Sq.
The surrounding area has long been a centre for radical politics — important non-conformist writers such as John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake are buried in Bunhill Fields, Oliver Cromwell had a house on Clerkenwell Green, and John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, was married in St. Giles Cripplegate in the Barbican. The actress Nell Gwynn, star of the Restoration stage, had a modest palace in the area, and Dr. Johnson (author of the famous dictionary) lived just to the south in his house near Fleet Street.
The district also has a rich fictional history. Clerkenwell is where Fagin and the Artful Dodger teach Oliver Twist to pickpocket! St Bartholemew’s Hospital is where Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes meet each other for the first time (and where they say goodbye in the recent television series). And Clerkenwell features heavily in fiction by Magic Realist Peter Ackroyd (such as The House of Doctor Dee, 1993).
This area of London has also played a significant part in the history of Socialism: Marx and Engels lived to the west in Primrose Hill, Lenin spent his time in exile over in Bloomsbury, and, in the interwar period, the local Borough Council commissioned the Modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin to build some of the first Modernist buildings to be constructed in the United Kingdom. Surrounded by remarkable and beautiful buildings by this architect, City University is the place to participate in the critical reappraisal of the Modernist movement.
To study English Literature at City, University of London is to learn how words can make things happen; is to engage with literature not as mere representation, a passive window on reality, but as an active agent in the production of the city you will inhabit.