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English Language   >   Unseen Prose

It was a bright cold day in April…

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Unseen Prose

In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) provides a masterclass on how to tackle a passage of unseen prose. In the first three lectures we concentrate on just a single line of prose – the opening lines from three famous texts (the identities of which are only revealed at the end of the lecture). In the three modules after that, we look at three longer passages, and begin to introduce some approaches that we might use to begin analysing a passage of unseen prose, including the question ‘Would it be different if…?’ and the importance of thinking about how a text creates meaning rather than simply what it means. In the seventh lecture, we go through the famous McRae Checklist, which outlines nine features of all prose texts, each of which might provide a way in to a passage of unseen prose. In the following four lectures, we look at four more passages of prose, this time with the McRae Checklist I mind, before ending with a shirt concluding module where we summarise what we’ve learnt and get some final tips from Professor McRae.

It was a bright cold day in April…

In this lecture we think about the following opening line from a novel: “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen”. As we move through the module, we consider: (i) the parts of this sentence that are unexpected or striking, e.g. the fact that the clocks are striking thirteen; (ii) the usefulness of the question ‘Would it be different if…?’ when analysing a text, e.g. ‘Would it be different if it were September instead of April?’; (iii) the distinction between referential and representative language; and (iv) the literary and cultural resonances of certain elements in the line, e.g. the month of April, the number thirteen, etc.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2023, August 24). Unseen Prose - It was a bright cold day in April… [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Unseen Prose – It was a bright cold day in April…." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Aug 2023,


Prof. John McRae

Prof. John McRae

Nottingham University