The Hungry Forties: The History and Literature of the 1840s


Please note: this day school was orginally advertised as taking place in October 2022.

A Conservative prime minister divided his party and left office in defeat. Britain’s international trade was changing as new markets far from home were sought and opened up. ‘Levelling up’ the north and the south had become a key social issue. New technologies threatened jobs and economic security. Workers were often on strike and talked of bringing down the government. The railways had boomed but were now bust. Access to food for millions of people across Europe was suddenly in jeopardy. Russian troops invaded countries to the west to end brief experiments in popular self-government.

No, this is not a description of the 2020s but of the 1840s when a young Queen Victoria was new on the throne, Sir Robert Peel was prime minister, the issue of the day was free trade following the repeal of the Corn Laws.

British writers were consumed by ‘the condition of England question’, the Chartist movement threatened domestic rebellion, across the Channel the Revolutions of 1848 seemed likely to change the map of Europe, and Russian troops invaded Rumania to bring down a liberal regime. Perhaps not so very much has changed after all, therefore.

To test this idea, this day school will look back on the literature of the 1840s, the most turbulent decade of the nineteenth century. Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Kingsley, Thomas Carlyle and many more wrote about the great social and political issues of the era. Do their descriptions of the ‘hard times’ of this era, of the divisions between ‘north and south’, and between ‘the two nations’, rich and poor, speak to us today as we grapple with similar problems?

This course will close for enrolment 2 days prior to the start date

(Course image from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom.)

Programme details

Registration for in-person attendees

The Age of the Chartists
(Prof Rohan McWilliam)

Tea/coffee break

Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke
(Dr Charlotte Jones)

Lunch break

Charles Dickens, Hard Times
(Dr David Grylls)

Tea/coffee break

Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton
(Dr Michael Molan)

Course disperses


Description Costs
Tuition - in-person attendance (includes tea/coffee) £85.00
Tuition - virtual attendance £75.00
Baguette £6.10
Hot lunch (3 courses) £16.50


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Sandie Byrne

Chair and Director of Studies

Sandie Byrne is Associate professor of English Literature and Director of Studies in English, OUDCE and a Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford. She is the author of a number of books and articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century writing.

Dr David Grylls


Dr David Grylls was Director of Studies in English Literature and Creative Writing at OUDCE for many years, and is an Emeritus Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford. He is a specialist in nineteenth-century fiction and has published a number of books and articles, including Guardians and Angels: Parents and Children in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Faber, 1978), The Paradox of Gissing (Harper Collins,1986), What the Dickens: A Guide to Martin Chuzzlewit and Hard Times (BBC Education, 1994), and ‘Gissing and Prostitution’ in George Gissing and the Woman Question (Routledge, 2013).

Dr Charlotte Jones


Dr Charlotte Jones is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, and a former lecturer at St Hilda's College, Oxford. Her research focuses on the novel, literary realism, philosophy and politics.

Prof Rohan McWilliam


Rohan McWilliam is Professor of Modern British History at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and a former President of the British Association for Victorian Studies.  He is the author of Popular Politics in Nineteenth Century Britain (1998), The Tichborne Claimant: A Victorian Sensation (2007) and, most recently, London’s West End: Creating the Pleasure District, 1800-1914 (2020).  He serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Victorian Culture and the London Journal as well as the board of the London Records Society.

Dr Mike Molan


Dr Michael Molan has taught English literature from the early modern to the contemporary at the University of Oxford and the University of East Anglia. His research includes the impact of literary influence on poetry and criticism from modernism to the present day, and epistolary networks of writers in the twentieth century.    


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then please contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.

IT requirements

For those joining us online

We will be using Zoom for the livestreaming of this course. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Zoom interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.