Period-based options may include:
Chaucer and his Legacies
This module explores the writings and poetic legacies of Geoffrey Chaucer, long recognised as the ‘Father of English Poetry’. The first part of the module covers a representative selection of Chaucer’s texts ranging across early dream visions such as The Book of the Duchess, the tragic tale of doomed lovers set against the background of the Fall of Troy in Troilus and Criseyde, and the extraordinarily diverse collection of stories in the Canterbury Tales. Students will consider Chaucer’s engagement with classical and contemporary writers, his handling of issues that anticipate such modern critical concerns as the construction of authorial identity and gender representation, and his abiding interest in the notion of literary authority and the interpretative demands placed upon the reader. The second part of the module assesses the ways in which later medieval writers reflect upon and respond to Chaucer’s achievements, by turns praising, contesting, and even rewriting his works. Authors/texts to be studied may include some of the following: John Gower, John Lydgate, Thomas Hoccleve, fifteenth-century ‘continuations’ of the Canterbury Tales, fifteenth-century dream visions, William Dunbar, and his fellow Scot Robert Henryson, whose Testament of Cresseid radically reworks Chaucer’s Trojan love story.
This module will be centred on a number of significant texts in the epic and mock-epic genres produced between the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Texts such as Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Pope’s Rape of the Lock have been selected in order to illuminate the concept of intertextuality and to encourage students to explore ways in which new works of literature result from the imitation, transformation and subversion of genre conventions and existing literary models. The nominated texts will be studied as representative of the continuities and changes in literary culture that were taking place between c. 1590 and c. 1800, and will be used to illustrate generic, contextual and theoretical issues raised in lectures. The nominated texts will also be used to provide points of reference for work in seminars/workshops, but discussion in these sessions will also draw upon a range of related texts. The requirement for wider reading in primary and secondary materials will be reflected in formative written work and in the examination rubric.
Songs and Sonnets
This module offers the opportunity to explore the work of some of England’s most celebrated poets, focussing upon their distinctive formal qualities as well as their precise literary, cultural and political contexts. Opening with Chaucer and the great tradition of medieval lyric poetry bequeathed to the early modern writers, the module moves through early Tudor court poetry, work by archetypal Renaissance poets such as Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney, female innovators like Isabella Whitney and Mary Sidney, significant later Elizabethan writers such as Walter Raleigh, and ends with a selection of works by William Shakespeare and John Donne. Particular emphasis will be placed upon developments in poetic form and genre, the translation and adaptation of classical and later European writers, the transmission and reception of literary works, especially in the intersections of manuscript and print culture, and upon the treatment of gender, history, politics and religious belief. Authors to be studied will span the period 1380-1620 and may include some of the following: Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, William Baldwin, Isabella Whitney, Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Walter Raleigh, Michael Drayton, William Shakespeare, Robert Southwell, and John Donne.
Stories of the Novel
This module traces the major developments and transformations in the genre of prose fiction in the eighteenth century. By engaging with significant texts such as Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1721), Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742) and Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778), and encouraging students to observe the continuities and differences between such early-, mid- and late-century works, the module introduces students to influential critical accounts of the ‘rise of the novel’ in the eighteenth century. At the same time, by combining these diverse focal texts in seminars/workshops with extracts and examples from contemporaneous and contextual works, and by drawing on a range of novelistic voices, both male and female, the module encourages students to challenge the simplicity of the ‘rise’ story of the novel, and to develop a more complex understanding of the multiple shaping influences on prose fiction in this century; as well as the ability to analyse closely issues of form, style, gender and genre. Beginning with examples of earlier, seventeenth-century prose fiction, the module ends by gesturing towards Gothic fiction and the work of Jane Austen, showing how eighteenth-century fiction has powerfully shaped – and continues to shape – modern conceptions of the novel. Any additional primary materials will be supplied and the requirement for wider reading in primary and secondary materials will be reflected in formative written work and in the examination rubric.
From Romanticism to Victorianism
Critics tend to divide the literature of the nineteenth century into two major phases, the Romantic and the Victorian. This module introduces students to the range of writing produced in and between these two periods, investigating what makes each period distinct while also exploring the connections and continuities between them. The module considers the works of many of the major figures in English Literature such as those by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Eliot, Tennyson and Dickens. We will read a wide range of writing from the nineteenth century, including fiction (novels and short stories), poetry (both shorter poems and longer works) and various types of non-fiction. Texts may include Lyrical Ballads, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a JustifiedSinner, Great Expectations, Middlemarch, and In Memoriam.
Literature in Britain since 1945
This module introduces students to some of the important trends of post-war British literature through close attention to a range of writing produced since the mid-1990s. We read a range of poetry and fiction written in the last sixty years to reflect on the social, cultural and shifts in postwar British life and concomitant developments in literary form. We will also explore the importance to understanding this literature of theoretical interventions in our understanding of such ideas as race and ethnicity, national and regional identity, sex and sexuality, and class and social relations. Texts might include Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim; Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners; Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey; Nell Dunn, Up the Junction; poetry by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes; J. G. Ballard, High Rise; Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden; Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor; Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children; Martin Amis, Money; Tom Stoppard, Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Making it New: Modernism and Literary Innovation in the Early Twentieth Century
This course aims to orientate students within an understanding of the aesthetic debates and cultural scene of Anglo-American literary modernism. It examines the ways in which writers sought to define themselves against bourgeois Victorian culture and its paradigmatic ways of seeing and representing the world; both through a focus on ‘modern’ life, and the shift in accepted ideas about gender, nation, religion and psyche by which it is characterised, and through experimentation with narrative style (such as interior monologue and stream of consciousness writing) and poetic form (in terms of rhythm, symbolism and vers libre). We will study some of the most representative and remarkable writings from the period both pre- and post-WW1, and explore the ways in which the modernist impulse to ‘make it new’, redefined the form and focus of poetry and the novel in the early twentieth century. Likely texts will include Henry James, WhatMaisie Knew; Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent; Imagist poetry (T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound, H.D); Wyndham Lewis, Blast and Tarr; Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier; James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (and various other poems); Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse; Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay; Djuna Barnes, Nightwood and Jean Rhys, Good Morning Midnight.
Victorian and Decadent Literature: the Modern, the Aesthetic, and the Gothic
The literature of the later part of the nineteenth century was often characterised by the term ‘Decadent’: a rebellion against the moral purpose earlier seen to legitimate and underpin literature and literary study. This fascinating period sees a privileging of aesthetic, or artistic, value over moral value, and the results include macabre modern fairy tales, philosophical writings on the role and purpose of art and literature, the importance of short, intricately-formed, impressionistic poems seeking a heightened engagement with the world through extreme experiences and the breaking of taboos, and the mediation of these concerns into the popular press and the twentieth century. Texts on the course might include Bram Stoker,Dracula; E.M. Forster, Howards End; Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray; and the writings of Arthur Symons and Walter Pater.
Language options may include:
Development and Variation in English
The module provides an outline of the principal features of language development and language variation. It expands on the first-year module Language for Literature of factors such as language acquisition, variation according to region, class, gender and power, and the relationship between language and society. It also explores the effects of contact between languages.
Language Variation: The mechanisms of language variation and their implications for historical and contemporary varieties of English are examined using suitable descriptive and analytical tools.
Language and society: Language is considered in its possible roles as both the reflection and the basis of social relations.
Languages in Contact: The effects of contact between different languages and their implications for communities, governments and cultures are considered using practical examples.
Language acquisition: The module examines how this process takes place and discusses some of the theoretical controversies surrounding it.
Text and Discourse
This module is about looking at discourse in more detail; both spoken (predominantly conversations) and written language. We will look at a variety of different kinds of texts, including literary discourse (and how language is used for example to specify features of characters, or represent their speech and thought) and political texts (how a view of reality is constructed through language, e.g. by making use of evaluation and rhetorical features). Most of the seminars are based on practical analysis of texts selected from a variety of domains, accompanied by a set of relevant readings.
Assessment is through a portfolio with peer-reviewed weekly assignments (semester 1) and an essay on analysing a suitable text using the frameworks covered in the module (semester 2). Each assessment contributes 50% to the overall grade.
Old English 1
[This module can also be taken as a MOMD. If you have taken this module before, you cannot take it again (but you are qualified to apply for Old English 2).]
This module offers the opportunity to begin the study of literature written in Old English, the variety of English used by Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles until shortly after 1066. Students read a selection of texts in the original language and investigate their literary, cultural, historical or artistic contexts, from illuminated manuscripts to gold and garnet items from the Staffordshire Hoard. Texts include 'Cynewulf and Cyneheard', the Old English translation of Bede's 'Account of the Poet Cædmon', 'The Dream of the Rood' and the 'Rune poem'. Reading skills are taught in the seminars and are supported by a variety of resources.
Old English 2: Words, Wisdom, and the Woman’s Voice
[Available only to students who have already taken Old English I; this module can also be taken as a MOMD.]
This module offers the opportunity to improve a reading knowledge of Old English and to explore the nature, meanings and uses of Old English poetic language in Old English elegiac poetry and related texts. In the first semester students investigate themes of exile, ruin, time, nature and loss, studying 'The Wanderer', 'The Seafarer' and 'The Ruin' in detail and alongside related texts (eg other elegies; wisdom poetry; homilies). In the second semester students consider poems in the woman's voice, 'Wulf and Eadwacer' and 'The Wife's Lament', considering them in relation to the elegy and in relation to representations of women as speakers of prophecy, elegy and wisdom in other Old English texts including Beowulf. Students may revisit texts studied at level 1 but must not repeat material previously submitted for assessment.
History of English Language
This course is designed to introduce students to the historical development of the English Language. Semester I will include the study of literary and non-literary texts in English, produced at various stages of its development. Students will be instructed in the use of the main tools for the exploration, analysis, and description of language from a historical perspective. Semester II will include the study of the linguistic processes arising from the development of English and of contemporary and present-day attitudes towards them, using a combination of primary and secondary texts.
Transhistorical module options may include:
From Plato to Postmodernism
The module will provide an overview of significant theories of literature and art from the classical period to the modern day. It will consider the range, type and purpose of conceptual approaches to the arts, and examine how those theories have been applied to specific works. The course will also reflect on the social and cultural background of the selected theories, and will examine the relationship between writings on aesthetics from different eras (such as in the reconfiguration of romantic ideology in some theories of the postmodern). Texts to be studied may include: Plato, The Republic, Aristotle,Poetics, Sidney, ‘The Defence of Poesy’, Pope, An Essay on Criticism, Burke, On the Origin of our Ideas of theSublime and Beautiful, Kant, Critique of Judgment, Wordsworth, Preface to LyricalBallads, Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, Leavis, The Great Tradition, Cixous, ‘Laugh of the Medusa’, Johnson, Critical Difference, Jameson, Postmodernism, and Gilroy, The Black Atlantic.
In Shakespeare’s Sisters we will study women’s writing across an extended historical period, from the medieval/early modern period to the late twentieth or twenty first centuries. We will read some of the major works of female-authored literature in the English language, and will also consider some of the key theoretical and methodological issues specific to the category of women’s writing. Is there a canon of women’s writing, and if so how can it be defined? Is there a tradition of women’s writing in English, and if so when did it begin? Is it either feasible or desirable to study women’s writing – in any period – in isolation from male-authored texts? Texts to be studied in this module will differ from year to year but may include Julian of Norwich’s Revelations; the poetry of Mary Wroth, Anne Bradstreet or Anne Finch; the plays, fiction or poetry of Aphra Behn; Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote; Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rightsof Woman; Jane Austen, Emma; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre; Virginia Woolf, Orlando and A Room of One’s Own; Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry.
Writing the Region
[This module is only available to those who did not take the level C version in year one.]
This module allows students to engage with the distinctive, lively, and longstanding literary heritage and traditions associated with the University of Birmingham, the locality, and the West Midlands region. We will study a range of texts of different periods and genres which imagine the region or are shaped by it. Texts may vary from year to year, but might include: The Lives of Two Offas; Langland’s Piers Plowman; the Coventry mystery plays; Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 2 and eighteenth-century texts on Shakespeare’s connection to Stratford; James Bisset, Poetic Survey Round Birmingham; Charles Reade, It’s Never Too Late to Mend; poems by Louis MacNeice and W. H. Auden; Henry Green, Living; Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Behsharam (Shameless); the poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah; the Rummidge novels of David Lodge; Catherine O’Flynn, What was Lost and/or The News Where You Are. Students will be invited to explore and analyse the selected texts in relation to issues of identity, representation, changing relations between the region and the wider world, and ideas about cultural heritage. They will be also invited to reflect on the ways in which adopting regional perspectives may be at odds with or complicate other approaches to ‘English’ literature. Students will be encouraged to enrich their reading and research by making visits to relevant sites and locations in the region.