Year two modules

Histories of Literature A

Chaucer and his Legacies

(20 credit module)

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.

Popular Fiction before the Novel

(20 credit module)

What were people reading before they could curl up with a novel? This module explores the antecedents of modern fiction, focusing on the ways in which stories were created, packaged, and experienced by writers and readers of the past. With particular reference to narratives aimed at popular audiences, especially romances, topics investigated will include: reading and performance; stories and/in pictures; heroes, heroines, outlaws, and villains; role models and celebrities; representations of interiority; adaptations; structure and suspense; fiction, truth and fact; best sellers; publishing and marketing fiction; gender and fiction. Examples of texts studied on the module include the Breton lays Lay le Freine and Sir Orfeo; the famous romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and tales of Robin Hood. The texts will be read in the free online editions published by TEAMS Middle English Texts – Robbins Digital Library Projects.  Key critical texts include Nicola McDonald (ed.), Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance (Manchester: MUP, 2004), Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert, The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance: A Historical Introduction (Longman, 2000, repr. Routledge 2013), and Raluca Radulescu and Cory James Rushton (eds), A Companion to Middle English Popular Romance (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2009).

Songs and Sonnets: English Poetry from Chaucer to Donne

(20 credit module)

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.

Histories of Literature B

Epic Ambitions

(20 credit module)

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.

Stories of the Novel

(20 credit module)

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.

Histories of Literature C

Romantics and Romanticisms

(20 credit module)

Spanning a half-century marked by violent revolutions and rapid social change, the Romantic era was an age of exceptional artistic energy, ambition and achievement. During the period, gifted poets radically transformed the traditions of English verse and prose writers began to explore the full psychological and historical possibilities of the novel. This module will explore Romantic writing by reading the pioneering fiction of Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott alongside wide-ranging selections from William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and John Keats: the ‘Big Six’ poets whose innovative and controversial views laid the foundations for modern conceptions of poetic genius. Alongside these writers, whose works have come retrospectively to define Romanticism, the course will explore some lesser-known classics of the period, including popular writings by the radical essayist William Hazlitt, the labouring-class poet Robert Bloomfield and the novelist and sonneteer Charlotte Smith. By reading enduring masterworks in tandem with a selection of diverse intertexts and modern criticism, we will seek to recapture the fears, ideals and excitements that resonated through the period’s vibrant and rancorous print culture.

Victorian Literature

(20 credit module)

This module offers students the opportunity to read widely and deeply in the literature of the Victorian period, engaging with the work of such canonical authors as Dickens, Gaskell, Eliot, the Brontës, Hardy, James, Tennyson, Barrett Browning and Hopkins, as well as studying cultural movements such as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and its circle, and making the acquaintance of lesser known writers such as Edward FitzGerald and George Meredith. The main texts for each week will be supplemented by contemporary materials drawn from a wide range of literary genres: for example, journalism, nonsense writing, biography and autobiography, diaries and correspondence, and essays on literature, the visual arts, politics, economics and the broader culture. The module will offer students a grounding in the key aesthetic, cultural, professional and material contexts for Victorian literature, and will introduce a range of modern critical and theoretical approaches to this period.

Decadence and the Fin de Siecle

(20 credit module)

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 the poetry of Algernon Swinburne; Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray; Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla; the plays of Bernard Shaw and Ibsen; and the writings of Arthur Symons and Walter Pater.

Histories of Literature D

Making it New: Modernism and Literary Innovation in the Early Twentieth Century

(20 credit module)

This course aims to introduce students to the artistic debates and cultural scene of early Anglo-American modernism. It examines the ways in which a variety of innovative writers defined themselves against bourgeois society and its paradigmatic ways of seeing and representing the world. Modernism challenged accepted ideas about gender, nation, empire, religion and subjectivity, and it experimented with narrative form (by means of impressionism, interior monologue and stream of consciousness, for example) and with poetic form (imagism, symbolism and vers libre), producing a wonderful array of bold new works. We will study some of the most representative and remarkable writings from the period both pre- and post-World War One, and we will explore the ways in which the modernist impulse to ‘make it new’ (Ezra Pound) redefined poetry and prose in the early twentieth century. Another important element of this module will be the avant-garde movements (for example, Futurism and Vorticism) that treated the punchy manifesto and the ‘little magazine’ as new art forms in their bid to destroy the dominant aesthetic assumptions of the period. We will study the work of several intriguing modern poets (Richard Aldington, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), T. S. Eliot, F. S. Flint, and Ezra Pound); the manifestoes of Le Corbusier, Wyndham Lewis, Mina Loy, and F. T. Marinetti; and prose by Ford Madox Ford (The Good Soldier), James Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Wyndham Lewis (Tarr), and Katherine Mansfield (short stories).

New World Orders: Literature after 1945

(20 credit module)

The decades that followed the second world war saw radical realignments of the political and social ordering of the preceding years: memories of the war’s horror – including the particular atrocities of the Holocaust and the atom bomb – gave way to the paranoia of Cold War politics; the flowering of decolonisation further refigured the relations between nations, while the rise of liberationist ideals such as the Civil Rights and feminist movements restructured the distribution of rights and opportunities within national societies; and the changing conditions of economic production and supply facilitated the emergence of a ‘consumer culture’ such as had never been seen before. In this module we look to trace the impact of such global shifts on Anglophone literature. We’ll examine a broad range of fiction, poetry, and drama from the 1950s to the 1990s (which includes material some students may find offensive and/or distressing) to question how writers looked to represent these new political, social and cultural landscapes and what forms they developed to do so. This year’s primary texts will be: Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange; Angela Carter, Wise Children;  Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man;  Ted Hughes, Crow;  Sarah Kane, Blasted;  V.S. Naipaul, The Mimic Men;  Sylvia Plath, Ariel;  Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.

Twenty-First Century Literature

(20 credit module)

On this module we will consider whether the Twenty-First Century has ushered in a new literary period. We will discuss whether we can distinguish literary concerns of the current century from those of the twentieth century, and the ways in which literature may be registering new social and political formations. How does literature work, and to whom is it speaking, in an age of abundant communication, and perpetual narratives of crisis? This module will introduce students to a range of fiction and theory since 2000, addressing topics that might include postmodernism, technology, globalisation, race, feminist and queer studies. The module will begin by considering new modes of story-telling and new media at the millennium, and will move on to study texts in light of themes that might include sincerity and authenticity, eco-criticism and post and trans-humanism. Texts that we will study on this module might include: Generation Kill (Dir. David Simon), House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski), Remainder (Tom McCarthy), Consider the Lobster (David Foster Wallace), Spring Breakers (Dir. Harmony Korine), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Dir. Benh Zeitlin), Oryx & Crake (Margaret Atwood), Dart (Alice Oswald), Salvage the Bones (Jesymn Ward).

Shakespeare modules

Elizabethan Shakespeare

(10 credit module)

Analyse the plays and poems of Shakespeare that were written and performed during the reign of Elizabeth I, including The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet and Twelfth Night.

Jacobean Shakespeare

(10 credit module)

Explore the plays that Shakespeare wrote later in his career, during the reign of James I, including King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra and The Winter’s Tale.

Themes in Literature

Themes in Literature modules allow you to study themes throughout the history of literature such as those in the modules below. There may also be some modules on offer in English Language, Film Studies, Drama and Creative Writing within this category.

From Plato to Postmodernism

(20 credit module)

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 the Sublime and Beautiful, Kant, Critique of Judgment, Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 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.

The Gothic

(20 credit module)

This module will explore Gothic literature from the Middle Ages to the present, concentrating on the last 250 years and asking how far literature produced before the mid-18th century Gothic revival can be seen as part of such a discourse. Possible texts will include The Castle of Otranto, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, As I Lay Dying, The Bloody Chamber, The Wasp Factory, The Keep. We shall also look at some Gothic poetry, such as ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, ‘The Vale of Esthwaite’ and ‘Manfred’, and also consider the presence of Gothic in modern film and other media, plus the relation of literary Gothic to other manifestations like neo-Gothic architecture and modern medievalism. The module will explore categories like ‘Urban Gothic’, ‘Female Gothic’, Southern Gothic’ and themes like the uncanny, the Gothic body, anxiety and repression; pondering the claim, in the words of one critic, that ‘Gothic can perhaps be called the only true literary tradition.’


(20 credit module)

Tragedy takes us to parts of human experience that other forms of artistic expression cannot reach. It deals with powerful and destructive forces beyond our control; it gives voice to things which otherwise remain silent: it disturbs and unsettles, yet asserts free will. It is dynamic and extraordinarily varied and a point of comparison with all other literary forms. This module explores the long history of tragedy, its variations and topical concerns, from the ancient world’s obsession with drama and theatre to modern iterations in contemporary cinema. Tragedy was invented for performance in front of an audience and semester 1 opens with the plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus and the notion of civic theatre in Athens; it moves through the non-dramatic forms of the middle ages to the high point of staged tragedy in the English Renaissance theatre. Semester 2 explores the redefinition of the tragic mode from the Romantics to the present day covering works by European, American, African and Asian writers and directors. Throughout the module, and with reference to primary literary texts and other philosophical considerations of the nature of tragedy, we will return to a series of central issues. How to define tragedy? Who gets depicted? What effect does tragedy have on its audience? What is the relation between tragedy and comedy? How does the crafted form of artistic tragedy differ from the merely tragic? Texts/films to be studied will differ from year to year may but may include the following: semester 1: Aeschylus, Oresteia; Sophocles, Oedipus Rex and Antigone; Geoffrey Chaucer, the ‘Knight’s Tale’; John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi; Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy. Semester 2: Lord Byron, Manfred; Thomas Mann, Death in Venice; Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler; Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman; Wole Soyinka, Death and the King’s Horseman; American Beauty (Sam Mendes); Ran (Akira Kurosawa).

Colonial/ Postcolonial

(20 credit module)

This module will allow students to engage with seminal literary texts of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in light both of the history of colonization and decolonization and writings of postcolonial activists and theorists. Although trans-historical, the module will not be structured chronologically. Instead, texts will be grouped on the basis of key themes, such as: Exploration, Exile, Pastoral, Partition, and Power. Authors/ directors whose works are likely to feature include: Rudyard Kipling, Olive Schreiner, Joseph Conrad, Ousmane Sembene, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Sam Selvon, Gillo Pontecorvo, Satyajit Ray, Anita Desai, Derek Walcott, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, J. M. Coetzee, Doris Lessing. For each theme a selection of key theoretical or critical texts will also be assigned, in order to expose students to the ideas and arguments that are fundamental to the field. Theorists whose works are likely to feature include: Rabindranath Tagore, Aimé Césaire, Mohandas Gandhi, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak and Stuart Hall.