Postgraduate MA Literature and Culture optional modules

A wealth of optional modules will be on offer each year. You will either choose from a selection of optional modules relevant to your chosen pathway or, if you are taking a general route through the degree, you will be free to choose from across the whole range. Modules on offer may include the following:

All pathways 

From Plato to the Postmodern: Theories of Literature and Art

The module provides an account of the development of 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.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Language and Literature: Key Topics in Stylistics

This module offers an advanced introduction to the interrelations between literature, literary analysis, and language studies. You acquire an understanding of the principles of stylistic analysis and theory, exploring such core topics as modality, transitivity, speech act analysis, metaphorical discourse, speech- and thought-representation, metaphor and cognition, and pragmatics; and apply that understanding to the study of literary texts (poetry, drama and prose).

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

 

Medieval pathway 

Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy

From heroes and quests to magic and hidden identities, modern fantasy has looked to the literature of the medieval period for inspiration. Yet it has also consistently transformed and reshaped its source material, rewriting the significance of key motifs and ideas in order to address the issues of its own time and place of production.

This module will examine the ways in which modern fantasy writing both adopts and adapts the culture, language, characters and narratives of medieval texts, and in so doing identifies its authors as an (albeit diverse) fandom. Although not fanfiction in the strictest terms, modern fantasy writing often shares with it the desire to extend and appropriate the plots and protagonists of earlier texts, and to challenge or re-examine them by writing in an avatar who explores the textual world in a metaphorical representation of the author’s own discovery of the original work.

This module will look at forerunners for this in the medieval period too, and will encourage you to analyse the communally-driven nature of textual production and circulation in the Middle Ages, as well as the communities of interest which have written fantasy in response, from the late nineteenth century to the present.  The module will provide the opportunity to examine a range of fantasy writing, which may include texts from George MacDonald and William Morris through C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to contemporary writers such as Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, J. K. Rowling and Ursula LeGuin.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Imagining the Past: Tolkien and Medievalism

This module seeks to place the life and work of J. R. R. Tolkien within a range of cultural contexts, including those of Romantic medievalism, the Arts and Crafts movement, English Roman Catholicism, the First World War and its aftermath, Old English and early Germanic philology, and classical, Arthurian, and other European traditions. Consideration will be given also to the legacy of his work and its reception.

Assessment: 5,000-word essay

Magic, Monsters and Marvels in the Medieval World

Be captivated by the magic of medieval literature: devils and demons; fairy kings and queens; ghosts and ghouls; magical powers, miracles and marvellous objects; prophecies and potions; witches and wizards.

Familiar to us from childhood fairy tales and modern fantasy literature, this collection of the uncanny and supernatural is a constant presence in the world of medieval romance and related literature - as well, perhaps more surprisingly, in the world of medieval religion. Join us in strange adventures and otherworldly encounters as we examine some of the Middle Ages’ most tantalising and gripping literature. In exploring the exotic, often improbable worlds created by our texts we’ll examine their relationship to the very real realm of the possible and consider how various varieties of magic were used to shed light on wider issues of contemporary - and modern - interest, including science, religion, medicine, gender and psychology. Alongside the works of authors such as Chaucer, Gower, the Gawain-poet and Henryson, we’ll study a host of fascinating medieval romances from across the British Isles and also examine collections of miracles and prophecies, hosts of magical objects and buildings, and sequence of spells and charms. Throughout, we’ll ask what role magic and the supernatural played in our texts and in the world in which they were read and produced.

Assessment: Written assignment

Mapping the Middle Ages: Cultural Encounters in the Medieval East and West

This module explores perceptions of place, power, and belonging in texts produced in medieval Europe between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. It will introduce you to medieval perceptions of peoples and places, and strategies of alienation and marginalisation which to our modern eyes are at once culturally distinct and eerily familiar.

We will consider how medieval authors conceptualised travel across the known – and the unknown – regions of the world, and the ideological assumptions implicit in these imaginings. We will explore the relationship of these verbal (and on occasion visual) maps to the early development of ethnography (writings about other peoples); and consider the place of these imaginings in both medieval colonisation projects and the resistance strategies of colonised peoples. Major themes include perceptions of race, gender, monstrosity, and the body; the limits of community; marginalisation and margins; the fantastic; the relationship between visual and literary cultures; and travel, both real and imagined.

The module is organised geographically, moving from early orientalist conceptualisations of the far-East to similarly imaginative and fraught constructions of the far-West. Alongside our key texts, we will be looking at medieval maps, and exploring digital mapping technologies to chart the mental worlds, and physical journeys, of our medieval travellers.

Assessment: Written assignment

Writing Medieval Communities: Place and Spaces

How and where were books made in medieval England? What do we know of the producers and centres of production? What evidence do we have for contemporary readers and reading circles, for local and regional textual communities? How did the printing press impact upon manuscript culture? This module explores these and other crucial aspects of medieval and early Tudor literary culture and gives you the opportunity to examine in detail the production and reception of vernacular and Latin books in an increasingly literate society.

Working through a series of test cases you will explore the nature of professional and amateur book productions, the environments in which books were made, sold and read, and the kinds of readers who made use of them. Topics may change from year to year but will address some of the following issues: ‘bestsellers’ and centres of book production in London; the role of government and City clerks in producing literary manuscripts; professional book production in the provinces (universities etc); the domestic household and literary patronage; ecclesiastical contexts for book production; the use of literary texts as inscriptions in domestic and religious buildings; the circulation (and censorship) of secular and religious texts in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Writing Medieval Communities: Regions and Nations

This module offers an introduction to strategies of communal identification in medieval literature, from the early Middle Ages to the early modern period. It interrogates concepts of regional and national identity in literature produced in English, Scots, French, Welsh and Latin (the latter three will be read in translation, with opportunity for work with original languages in the context of assessment). It offers an opportunity for you to engage with national literatures beyond English, and to explore English literature in a comparative perspective. Texts studied will include: Middle Welsh prose literature; the Matter of Britain in chronicle and romance (including Arthurian material); and the late medieval and early modern ballad tradition. Youwill also be introduced to a range of contemporary critical perspectives, relating to the history of the nation/ nationalism, interrogating their medieval utility; as well as considering the relationship of the medieval to contemporary national, and nationalist, discourses.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

 

Reformation to Reform pathway 

Byron and Keats

You speak of Lord Byron and me – There is this great difference between us. He describes what he sees – I describe what I imagine – Mine is the hardest task.                                                                                                           
–  Keats 

Mr Keats, whose poetry you enquire after, appears to me what I have already said: such writing is a sort of mental masturbation – he is always frigging his Imagination. I don't mean he is indecent, but viciously soliciting his ideas into a state, which is neither poetry nor anything else but a Bedlam vision produced by raw pork and opium.
– Byron 

This module offers you the chance to study in depth the character, writing, and afterlives of two major Romantic poets: George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) and John Keats (1795-1821). At the heart of the module will be an attempt to get to grips with the two poets’ literary careers and achievements: you will come into contact with some of the most flamboyant and affecting poetry in English – writing that is by turns tragic, witty, sensuous, passionate, and tough-minded. But lectures and seminars will also afford time to the poets’ lives and letters, their engagement with the events and thinking of their period, and with other writers. You will be invited to explore the antagonism between the two poets hinted at in the quotations above: to what extent did their consciousness of one another drive and colour their individual achievements? How far did surface hostility mask a deeper-lying sympathy and a sense of shared artistic endeavour? The course will close by examining the legacy of each poet’s life and work by considering their importance to subsequent writers and the significance of their achievements for our understanding of Romanticism.  

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Early Modern Drama: Middleton and Jonson

This module will introduce and contextualise two of the most significant dramatists working in the same period as Shakespeare. Seminars will focus on informal introductory lectures, student presentations, and group discussion. Student presentations will place one of the plays in a broader dramatic and/or cultural context, and/or engage in close analysis of key passages.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Paradise Lost: Text and Context

This module enables you to focus in depth on Milton's 12-book epic poem, Paradise Lost, one of the most canonical works in English literature. Through close reading of 1-2 books per week, you will be invited to explore numerous aspects of Milton's poetic mythmaking, including his transformation of biblical and classical sources; the dramatisation of theological doctrine; allusion to the politics of the Civil Wars, Interregnum, and Restoration; and engagement with late-seventeenth-century philosophical debates over the nature of existence and the limits of human knowledge.

Working outward from the text of the poem, you will be required to read widely in extracts from relevant contextual material. These will include classical and Renaissance epic poetry (e.g. Homer, Virgil, Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser); and Milton's own prose tracts on matters of theology (De Doctrina Christiana), political and ethical principle (Areopagitica, Tenure of Kings and Magistrates), and gender relations (Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce). Three weeks will be devoted to considering, respectively, the ‘companion' poem to Paradise Lost, Milton's brief epic, Paradise Regained; contemporary responses to Paradise Lost (especially Dryden and Marvell); and the reception and critical history of the poem from 1700 to the present day.

Throughout the module, your analysis and evaluation of the poem will be informed by wide reading of significant recent critical studies, including Stanley Fish's reader-response theory, and the so-called ‘new' Milton criticism of Rumrich, Goldberg, Corns and others, which tends to focus on the poem's political radicalism, theological heterodoxy, and aesthetic innovation.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Rude Brittania: 1660-1830

The long eighteenth century is often known as ‘The Age of Politeness’—but what about its ruder, more antagonistic literary history? This module will explore the pleasures and consequences of malcontent and misanthropic writing in this period from Rochester’s satires to Romantic parodies by Byron, taking in works of antipathy along the way by writers such as Pope, Swift, Wortley Montagu, Austen, and Wordsworth. Traditions of satire, the mock-heroic, parody, travesty, and burlesque will be introduced. We will discover the unsentimental, unsympathetic world of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, as well as consider the literary uses (and abuses) of savage indignation, regulated hatred, and mad, bad, and dangerous writing both then and now.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Shakespeare's Afterlives

This module focuses not on Shakespeare’s plays and poems themselves, but on the ways in which these texts have been reinvented and re-valued from Shakespeare’s own lifetime to the present day.  We will trace the long history of re-making Shakespeare, from Nahum Tate’s Restoration drama King Lear, which famously gave the tragedy a happy ending, to twentieth-century teen movieTen Things I Hate About You, which transfers Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrewto an American high school; and from Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespearein the nineteenth century to manga Shakespeare in the twenty-first;  via editions, novelisations, popular culture quotations, translations, and, more recently, digital transformations that have given new meaning to the notion of Shakespeare as ‘universal’ poet.

We will examine closely the language and genres of these re-made texts; test out theories of reception, adaptation and intertextuality; and consider the ways in which ‘Shakespeare’ has been reshaped to suit the cultural preoccupations of each period, interest group or even nation, elevating his status in the process.

At the same time, we will challenge the notion of a consistent, universal ‘Shakespeare’ by acknowledging the multiple and contingent circumstances by which certain texts and authors gain iconic cultural status over time.  More broadly, the materials and ideas considered in this module give us the opportunity to reflect on the processes that have shaped – and continue to shape – the value of English Literature. 

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Shakespeare's Craftsmanship

This module is intended to convey, from a variety of standpoints, a sense of how Shakespeare worked. We will explore a selection of plays from across his career in order to highlight the fluidity of his creativity in terms of such elements as language, structure, mood, adaptation of source material, and how they are made to function in innovative ways alongside the more pragmatic considerations of live performance in the early modern theatre. Alongside these historical, textual, and dramaturgical issues we will also consider how such questions of craft may influence performance practice today.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Shakespeare's Legacy

This module considers the adaptation and appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays, persona, and possessions from 1660 to the present day, paying particular attention to how changes and developments in theatre practice, aesthetic tastes, social concerns, political events, the heritage industry, and commercial markets have shaped the history of Shakespeare’s ‘afterlife’. The module looks at trends broadly chronologically, focusing on particular examples as it traces how the plays (and other Shakespeariana) were received and reinterpreted in light of different artistic, intellectual, and commercial movements from the late seventeenth to early twenty-first centuries. The distinction between ‘adaptations’, ‘appropriations’, ‘translations’, and ‘versions’ will be questioned, and you will be invited to consider the extent to which the different adaptations you read or see rely upon the original Shakespearian text for context and meaning.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay or 3,000-word creative writing project and 1,000-word reflective commentary

Viragos, Coquettes and Prudes

Women began to be both readers and writers in greater and greater numbers during the eighteenth century. They began to write in all literary genres including poetry, prose fiction and drama, but also in lesser known genres such as journals, letters and political propaganda, and female characters began to appear more prominently in literature. During the course of the century more and more conduct books and educational texts aimed at women appeared in an attempt to get women to police their own behaviour according to certain moral and cultural norms. This module will therefore explore not only the work of some well-known literary writers of the period (such as Mary Wortley Montagu, Delariviere Manley, Eliza Haywood and Frances Burney) but also the ways in which women were represented in literature and the consequent development of a female aesthetic.

The module will examine some of the issues raised by the reading of these texts, such as: what are the characteristics of early writing by women? How are the politics of gender relations and identities represented? How have these writers and their texts been treated by literary critics? How did women relate to contemporary ideas of author/authority? Are these texts necessarily subersive of cultural/political traditions? How were women's voices shaped by the expectations of the conduct book tradition? How were expectations of women governed by the representation in literature of types of women such as the virago, the coquette, the prude, the termagent?

Other topics will include the education of women, women and the classical tradition, publication and patronage, the role of mentors, and the intersection of gender issues with those of social class and race.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

 

Long Nineteenth Century pathway 

Byron and Keats

You speak of Lord Byron and me – There is this great difference between us. He describes what he sees – I describe what I imagine – Mine is the hardest task.                                                                                                           
–  Keats 

Mr Keats, whose poetry you enquire after, appears to me what I have already said: such writing is a sort of mental masturbation – he is always frigging his Imagination. I don't mean he is indecent, but viciously soliciting his ideas into a state, which is neither poetry nor anything else but a Bedlam vision produced by raw pork and opium.
– Byron 

This module offers you the chance to study in depth the character, writing, and afterlives of two major Romantic poets: George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) and John Keats (1795-1821). At the heart of the module will be an attempt to get to grips with the two poets’ literary careers and achievements: you will come into contact with some of the most flamboyant and affecting poetry in English – writing that is by turns tragic, witty, sensuous, passionate, and tough-minded. But lectures and seminars will also afford time to the poets’ lives and letters, their engagement with the events and thinking of their period, and with other writers. You will be invited to explore the antagonism between the two poets hinted at in the quotations above: to what extent did their consciousness of one another drive and colour their individual achievements? How far did surface hostility mask a deeper-lying sympathy and a sense of shared artistic endeavour? The course will close by examining the legacy of each poet’s life and work by considering their importance to subsequent writers and the significance of their achievements for our understanding of Romanticism.  

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Literature in the Age of Evolution

In this module we study how literature in all its forms has participated in and responded to the scientific discovery that life on Earth has evolved rather than being created. Charles Darwin's announcement of the theory of evolution by natural selection in On the Origin of Species in 1859 marked a watershed, but evolution as an idea had been written about by scientists and poets since the end of the eighteenth century, and it has continued to be developed, refined and debated through to the present day.

Ranging widely across British and American literature, on this module you study a diverse selection of texts that engage with evolutionary theory from the early nineteenth century to the contemporary moment, including poetry, novels, science fiction and drama, as well as the writings of the scientists themselves. We ask how literature has explored the challenges posed by evolution to received ideas of religion and ethics. We consider how poetry and fiction can articulate what it means to live in a universe in which we have evolved through natural processes including natural selection, sexual selection and genetic drift, and in which we are related by ties of kinship and ecology to other living creatures. We consider too how literature and literary language and forms have been used to promote and to challenge different evolutionary worldviews, and how literary critics have sought to ground their own practice in evolutionary theory.

The curriculum will vary from year to year, partly in response to the students’ own interests. Authors who may feature on the module include nineteenth-century scientists such as Darwin and T. H. Huxley; contemporary science writers such as Richard Dawkins, James Lovelock and Edward O. Wilson; poets such as Erasmus Darwin, Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, George Meredith, James Thomson, Thomas Hardy, Constance Naden, Robinson Jeffers, Edna St Vincent Millay, Judith Wright, Ted Hughes, as well as selected contemporary poets; novelists and science fiction writers such as Hardy, Samuel Butler, Olaf Stapledon, William Golding, A. S. Byatt, Ian McEwan and Rebecca Stott; dramatists such as Bernard Shaw, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and Timberlake Wertenbaker; and literary critics ranging from Gillian Beer and George Levine to Joseph Carroll, Brian Boyd and Jonathan Gottschall.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Politics and Terror in the Age of Revolutions

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 fundamentally reshaped the political and literary culture of the British Isles, with the hopes and anxieties which it provoked triggering waves of politically radical manifestoes; a conservative backlash that sought to control revolutionary energies; an unprecedented wave of Gothic texts which reflected and responded to post-Revolutionary fears; and a startling flowering of new aesthetic ideologies which attempted to carve out a privileged position for literature above the sphere of political struggle.

This module will explore the political and literary culture of this turbulent period by examining poetry, novels, plays, essays and interventions by writers including Edmund Burke, William Godwin, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, Anna Barbauld, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley and Thomas De Quincey.  In the texts on the course, we will consider representations of wrongful imprisonment, visionary prophecy, political apostasy, religious corruption, sexual deviance and drug-fuelled crocodile hallucinations, unpicking both the aesthetic techniques employed and their wider implications amongst shifting social, political and international contexts.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Reading Henry James

This module offers you the chance to engage widely and deeply with the work of Henry James (1843-1916). One of the most artful and influential English-language writers of the late nineteenth century, James is a key figure in the literary and cultural history of this period: an American who made his life in Europe and recorded transatlantic relations with unparalleled intelligence and wit; an observer of the Victorian social scene whose dazzling later fiction lays the foundations of literary modernism; and an fascinated witness to the transformations of desire – in the overlapping fields of sexuality, consumerism, tourism, publicity, and technology – that mark the emergence of cultural modernity.

The module will be organised around a core of three major novels drawn from the principal decades of James’s fiction-writing life, from the 1870s to the 1900s (titles to be announced in due course). We will read these novels slowly, devoting several weeks to each and paying close, sustained attention to the subtlety and complexity of James’s style – a style that both demands and richly repays such attention. As we do so, we will explore these novels’ technical concerns, above all with the problem of how to represent consciousness; and their recurring thematic interests, in the power dynamics of personal relations, in knowledge and the inexhaustible desire to know, in money and beauty, acquisition and appreciation. Alongside these core texts, a linked programme of shorter supplementary readings will introduce you to James’s extraordinarily varied output in other literary forms: novellas, short stories, travel writing, and criticism of literature, drama, and the visual arts. We will track the development of works-in-progress through the traces they leave in his letters and notebooks, and think about his retrospective shaping of his own life and literary career in his autobiographical writings and textual revisions.

James has been an astonishingly productive object of study for literary biography, criticism, and theory in the twentieth century and beyond, and as we move through the module we will also survey some high (and low) points in modern literary studies, and try out challenging new modes of interpretation. Above all the module will encourage you to take to heart as critical readers James’s advice to aspiring novelists: ‘Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!’  

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

The Pre-Raphaelite Circle

This module focuses on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of mid-nineteenth century artists and writers, as an entry point to explore a series of art/text movements of the Victorian era. Derided in the press as the “Fleshly School” of poetry, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood engaged many of the most pressing debates of literary and artistic production and consumption during the period: the role of craft versus inspiration, the relationship between realism and idealism, the pressures of facing an increasingly vocal public, and the wages of industrialisation, among others.

In this module, you will consider the ways that that Pre-Raphaelites—as well as the Aesthetes, the Arts and Crafts movement, the Century Guild, and other groups that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood inspired—responded to these debates in the various artistic forms they advocated. Texts to include verse by Tennyson, Keats, Browning, Barrett Browning, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Swinburne, and Wilde; prose by Pater, Ruskin, Arnold, Morris, Beerbohm, and Buchanan; and images ranging from the fine arts to cartoons from the popular periodical press. Further, you will have the opportunity to explore the rich local links to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including visits to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. 

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

TMI: Confessional writing, from Rousseau to present

This module looks beyond narrow definitions of autobiography to reconsider modern and contemporary ideas of self and identity through the study of self-expression.

Beginning with Rousseau’s Confessions (1782) and reading a mixture of canonical and non-canonical texts, fictional and non-fictional sources, from the 18th century to the present, you will ask fundamental questions about confessional writing, the notion of self-image, and the relationship between writing, identity, and gender. You will interrogate traditional notions of nonfiction and fiction, real and fake, public and private, self and other, assessing the extent to which we can be said, today, to live in an age of confession.

In the past decade, as social media and internet culture have provided new platforms to share details of our everyday experiences and milestone life events, ‘oversharing’ or ‘TMI’ have increased in popularity as cultural terms of condemnation. Yet, through this module’s examination of contemporary online cultures, you will be asked to reconsider the concept of confession from an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing on aspects of media studies, life writing, political philosophy, ethics, and literary criticism.

Writers/critics may include: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Janet Malcolm, James Baldwin, Roz Kaveney, Maya Angelou, Helen Macdonald, Jackie Kay, Tao Lin, Lauren Berlant, Dodie Bellamy, and Kim Kardashian.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Victorian Drama

This module will focus on mid-nineteenth century Victorian drama. Apart from reading established and key authors the module will study drama’s relationship and realisation of other art forms including adaptations from popular novels, the periodical press and famous works of art. We will look at how Victorian drama exploited a multi-sensual and, indeed, multi-media experience for the audience using aural, visual and what could perhaps be described as “four D” effects in spectacular sensation drama. We will also look at genres and topics of drama such as the industrial, the melodramatic, the ghost story, and the folk tale and study the somewhat radical attitude of authors such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Students with an appreciation of art history, stagecraft or history will especially enjoy the module. The module is supported by a structured week-by-week programme of reading and audiovisual material will also be used.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay and group presentation

 

20th and 21st Century pathway 

African American Freedom: 20th Century Literature and Visual Culture

This module introduces you to African American literature and visual culture in the 20th Century through a focus on the concept of freedom (political, social, and aesthetic). Focusing on a range of literary and visual texts from the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement and after, the module will consider how aesthetic and political concepts of freedom have been conceptualised by artists and how they have shaped issues of representation and aesthetics. You will have the opportunity to explore work by artists before and after the Civil Rights movement and trace the ways in which the body, self-determination, history, and, collective liberation evolve across literary and visual works.

Topics considered may include: the legacies of slavery and the nineteenth century; the Harlem Renaissance and a new cultural identity; representations of the body and racial identity; invisibility/visibility; artistic freedom and the uses of abstraction; representations of the civil rights movement in African American writing and visual art; the Black Arts Movement and the new Black Aesthetic. The module will focus on a range of work by artists and writers, which may include James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglass, Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas, Barbara Chase Ribould.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Bringing Out the Bodies: Technology, Transhumans, and Skin

This module aims to investigate the changing nature of what it means to be human by focusing on the role of technology in breaking down the barrier of our skin. Exploring the distinction between the trans- and post-human, as cultural images and philosophical constructs, the module is designed to work its way inward: from the first technologies held in the hand, to wearable devices, and then the piercing of the skin with implants, and ending with genetic manipulation and the possibility of sacrificing the body entirely.

Pairing theoretical and philosophical work with representations of technology in contemporary literature and film, this module will enable you to discuss the importance of technology to art and to what it means to be human, and how that fundamental category, what it means to be alive and to be us, is on the verge of being challenged for the first time since fire.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Cold War Film

This module aims to examine films of the Cold War era c.1946-1965. The module will examine the political and economic context of the production of film, looking at issues such as political control via McCarthyism and the HUAC, and the economic demands that directed and constrained film production. You will then examine a series of films, in order to assess the extent to which film reflected or engaged with social, cultural and political debates of the time. The aim of the course is to enable you to develop skills in both film theory, and film history.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy

From heroes and quests to magic and hidden identities, modern fantasy has looked to the literature of the medieval period for inspiration. Yet it has also consistently transformed and reshaped its source material, rewriting the significance of key motifs and ideas in order to address the issues of its own time and place of production.

This module will examine the ways in which modern fantasy writing both adopts and adapts the culture, language, characters and narratives of medieval texts, and in so doing identifies its authors as an (albeit diverse) fandom. Although not fanfiction in the strictest terms, modern fantasy writing often shares with it the desire to extend and appropriate the plots and protagonists of earlier texts, and to challenge or re-examine them by writing in an avatar who explores the textual world in a metaphorical representation of the author’s own discovery of the original work.

This module will look at forerunners for this in the medieval period too, and will encourage you to analyse the communally-driven nature of textual production and circulation in the Middle Ages, as well as the communities of interest which have written fantasy in response, from the late nineteenth century to the present.  The module will provide the opportunity to examine a range of fantasy writing, which may include texts from George MacDonald and William Morris through C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to contemporary writers such as Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, J. K. Rowling and Ursula LeGuin.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Feminist Killjoys: New Directions in Feminist and Queer Theory

This module explores recent debates in the field of gender and sexuality studies. It will focus on contemporary interventions which may include queer theory, intersectional feminism, postfeminism, and critical race studies. We will consider topics such as social reproduction, the family, the ‘happiness imperative’, heteronormativity, gender presentation, race, disability, queer temporalities, queer natures, and homonationalism. The module is likely to be theory-led and may include work drawn from visual culture and media studies as well as literary studies. 

Theorists discussed might include: Gloria Anzaldúa, Sara Ahmed, Carol J. Adams, Laurent Berlant and Michael Warner, Lee Edelman, Silvia Federici, Jack Halberstam, Donna Haraway, Alison Kafer, Jasbir Puar.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Film and Television Authorship

This module investigates why it is that the concept of authorship is so different in relation to film (supposedly a director’s medium) and television (apparently a writer’s medium). This module explores, examines and challenges the concept of authorship in relation to film and television. It begins with analysis of the various traditions and examples of authorship in both media. It focuses on the emergence of ‘big name’ film directors in Hollywood cinema and continues by engaging with the Auteur theory: the notion that the film director should be considered the ‘author’ of a film as a writer is the author of a book. This theory is then challenged in analysis of specific writing on the subject as well as in close case studies and in-depth analysis of key filmmakers and television writers and their most important works. The module thus pursues an understanding of the tension between directorial autonomy, audience demands, critical expectations and the film and television industries. The idea of authorship, which is principally concerned with the status of the film director as an artist, is of fundamental importance in the field of film and television studies and, indeed, creative writing in relation to both media.

Assessment: Presentation and essay 

Gender and Irish Fiction

In Gender and Irish Fiction we will study a range of prose works by male and female Irish writers from the 1980s to the present day. Although Irish literature flourished in the earlier twentieth century, the dominant writers from that period are almost all men, with female novelists and poets occupying a relatively minor (and often marginal) position within the Irish literary canon. In this module we will trace the emergence of female Irish writers in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, as well as considering how Irish writers of both sexes during this period depict issues of gender and sexuality. We will assess how these writers have explored social change within Ireland, engaged with Irish history, politics and literary culture, and sought to reassess Ireland’s relationships with Britain, Europe and America. We will also consider how Irish writers have used and adapted fictional forms for different purposes. 

Texts to be studied in this module will differ from year to year but may include: Roddy Doyle, The Commitments,  William Trevor, Felicia’s Journey, Colm Toíbín, The Blackwater Lightship, Emma Donoghue, Room, Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and Anne Enright, The Green Road.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Guilty Pleasures: Reading the Historical Romance

Guilty Pleasures explores the phenomenon and development of the popular historical romance from the start of the twentieth century to the present day. You will also examine the history of reading the romance, from the start of mass-market romance publishing in the 1920s to the recent phenomenon of literary blogging and fandom.

Popular romance fiction today accounts for around 13% of the total adult fiction market (of which historical romance in particular has at least a 34% share), with annual sales of over $1billion. Over 80% of the readers of romance fiction are women, and over 70% of them talk about and recommend the romance novels they are reading. Romance fiction is written largely by women, for women, about women protagonists and about women’s experiences and fantasies. Yet it is a genre that is dismissed by the literary establishment as escapist, anti-feminist, and troubling in its romanticizing of male authority and sexual violence. As literary scholars (but perhaps also romance readers ourselves), are we simply to ignore the popular romance, or should we examine and attempt to understand its complicated yet persistent appeal for women readers over the changing contexts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?

In this module you will read a range of historical ‘romance’ novels from the Regency romance, to the mid-late twentieth century ‘bodice-ripper’, to the more recent phenomenon of the hybrid historical fantasia or paranormal/time-travelling romance. You will analyse the archetypal conventions, narrative structures, plot patterns and themes of the romance genre, exploring the commercial ‘category’ romance’ of Mills & Boon or Harlequin, and the bestsellers of acclaimed ‘Queens’ of romance such as Heyer and Holt, alongside and in dialogue with examples of the contemporary middlebrow (eg. Gregory), and what might be described as elite or ‘literary’ romance (eg. Fowles). Applying your literary critical skills to the romance genre, you will explore the formal characteristics, strategies and reworkings of the genre, examining for example the relationship between the concepts of ‘history’ and ‘romance’, and of ‘authenticity’ or verisimilitude and ‘fantasy’, as these are played out within the historical romance novel. You will also examine and engage with key feminist and postfeminist debates on the gendered status of the romance genre. The module will help you to set your exploration of the romance genre within the context of broader literary and sociological issues such as the sexual/textual politics of the literary canon, the gendering of critical acclaim, and the disjunction of elite and popular reading practices, as well as questions such as how we define ‘good’ literature, and how we might negotiate reading critically and reading pleasurably at the same time. 

Texts studied may vary slightly from year to year but may include: Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903); Edith Maude Hull, The Sheik (1919); Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades (1926) and Venetia (1958); Daphne du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek (1941); Kathleen Winsor, Forever Amber (1944); Victoria Holt, The Shivering Sands (1969); John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969); Diana Gabaldon, Outlander [Books 1-3: Outlander; Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, 1991-1993); Philippa Carr, The Other Boleyn Girl (2001).

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Last Year's Novels

How do literary scholars begin to study contemporary literature? In the absence of extant scholarly discussion of new literary works how does one begin critical dialogues?

In this module you will explore precisely these questions through study of novels written in the previous calendar year. The texts studied will hail from Britain, Ireland, the United States and elsewhere in the English-speaking world. Alongside bestselling literary fiction you will also examine works from smaller independent publishers. You will be encouraged to think about contemporary stylistic fashions but also about the mechanics of contemporary publishing (including the awards industry) and how this may affect the content and form of literary texts. There will also be sustained engagement with relevant trends in contemporary literary and cultural theory, including reflection upon the challenge of understanding the contemporary moment at all.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Modern American Poetry

The poetry of 20th-century America offers some of the most important and exciting ways to engage in intellectual discovery. Lacking the national traditions which guarantee the foundational importance of poetry, American poets have always had to strive to ‘invent’ poetry.  The result is that American poetry repeatedly emphasises the expressive freedom of the artist, experimenting with language so as to involve readers as directly and authentically as possible. Emphasising the importance of cultural location for American poetry (the where, the when, and the how it was written), and considering works by poets from William Carlos Williams to Eileen Myles, Frank O’Hara to Claudia Rankine, this module explores the ways in which modern American poetry engages with history, with the radical discoveries of modern art, with the terrors of modern warfare, with the rise of feminism, with the transformative power of science, with queer urban enclaves, and with the pull of mystical religions, complex theories, and modern philosophies. It also illuminates extra-literary and interdisciplinary poetic practices, such as the rise of the public reading series, visual production, the publication of little magazines, and both mainstream and alternative verse cultures, leading to a critical and historical understanding of some of the most remarkable literature of the modern era.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Modernism in the Magazines

This module introduces you to the forums in which the art and literature of modernism was first published; that is, in the pages of the modernist ‘little magazines’. In this module, we will examine the development of modernism across a range of literary texts (editorials, manifestos, poems, short stories, essays, serialised novels), as well as focusing on key works by writers such as Wyndham Lewis, Katherine Mansfield, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Rebecca West, and James Joyce. We will read these texts alongside the magazines in which they were first published, such as The New Age, Rhythm, BLAST, and The Egoist. Studying these magazines in digital form, you will become familiar with the theoretical and methodological approaches adopted in the burgeoning academic field of ‘modern periodical studies’. In particular, you will learn how to read magazines as a means of re-contextualising modernist literature, taking into account the importance of various social, political, cultural, and historical contexts. We will also situate modernist literature in a wider interdisciplinary context of experimentation across the arts, examining the significance of visual art and graphic design across magazine culture. In the process, you will become familiar with some of the most important avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century, such as Fauvism, Imagism, and Vorticism. A key feature of this module is its research-led focus. You are encouraged to bring your own research agenda to seminars, seeking out writers and texts that interest you. Over the course of the module, and in consultation with your tutor, you will develop an original research project based on your engagement with this vibrant magazine culture.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Remembering World War One

Launched in the centenary year of the start of the First World War, this module offers you the opportunity to encounter the shock of the war - its historical, cultural and psychological enormity and incomprehensibility - as it was expressed by writers who experienced it and lived through its aftermath, as well as to explore and critically analyse the continuing significance of the War and its cultural mythology within literary history from 1914 to the present day. You will be exposed to a range of moments in the articulation and representation of the War, from the voices preserved in the poetry of 1914-18, across the curious imaginative silence of the early post-war years to the flood of memoirs and autobiographical prose fiction that appeared in the mid to late 1920s, to the historical representations that began to appear from the 1960s, to our contemporary moment of remembrance and memorialisation as marked by 2014.

Framed by a reading of Timothy Findley’s historical novel The Wars (1977), the module will encourage you to reflect upon the ways in which you approach, represent and ‘remember’ the War in the act of historical research and literary criticism. Other texts taught are likely to include a selection from the following novels, memoirs, plays and poetry collections, alongside letters, diaries and other ephemera: poetry from the trenches and the home front [from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/ and Tim Kendall, Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology (OUP 2013), and Catherine Reilly, Scars Upon My Heart: Women's Poetry and Verse of the First World War  (Virago, 2006)], Rebecca West, Return of the Soldier (1918), Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925), R.C. Sheriff, Journey’s End (1928), Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929), Frederic Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune (1929), Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1929), Richard Aldington, Death of a Hero (1929), Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929; 1929 Wheen translation), Helen Zenna Smith, Not So Quiet ... (1930), Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930), Theatre Workshop, Oh, What a Lovely War! (1963), Susan Hill, Strange Meeting (1971), and Pat Barker, Regeneration (1991). You will also have the opportunity in the workshop sessions to see original film footage from World War One, and to work with some of the World War One archive holdings in the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural collections.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Textualities and Materialities

This module will introduce you to examples of literary scholarship which focus upon the materiality of texts, their mixing of various media and their wider production, dissemination and mediation. Approaches to be addressed may include, digital texts, the book as object, the significance of genre, word and image and contemporary book production.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

The Modern Short Story

This module examines a range of modern, postmodern, and contemporary short fictional forms in English, including the short story, short story cycle, microfiction, and digital short story. Addressing works by British, Irish, North American, New Zealand, and African writers, we will examine the ways in which short fiction has changed across the twentieth century and into the present day.

In particular, you will be asked to consider how short forms prove highly responsive to understanding the complex intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and nation central to modern and contemporary life. The Modern Short Story will trace the development of an often-marginalised literary form, theorising the short story through a range of literary, journalistic, and critical sources.

Authors may include: Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Doris Lessing, Samuel Beckett, Raymond Carver, Grace Paley, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ali Smith, Lydia Davis, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lorrie Moore, Junot Diaz, Teju Cole, Phaswane Mpe, Alice Munro, and Tao Lin.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

The Modernist Novel

This module will offer higher-level study of some of the more challenging texts and debates in literary modernism. You will undertake close textual reading of some of the larger modernist texts, relating these to key developments in Anglo-American modernism in the 1920s and 30s, as well as recent critical debates. You will be encouraged to rethink mainstream definitions of the literary history of the early twentieth century, and examine the complexity of the literary and cultural moment of modernism.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Theories of the Modern

This module will introduce you to a range of the theories and methodologies that have been prominent in literary and cultural criticism in the 20th and 21s century. Designed for those choosing a 20th and 21st century pathway on the MA in Literature and Culture (though open to those taking a more general route through the degree) it will build upon a first semester module in ‘modernism’ and run in conjunction with second semester modules in ‘contemporary cultures’ and ‘Textualities and Materialities’. Theories and methods to be addressed may include cultural studies approaches, postcolonial theory, new media theory and narratology.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

TMI: Confessional Writing, from Rousseau to present

This module looks beyond narrow definitions of autobiography to reconsider modern and contemporary ideas of self and identity through the study of self-expression.

Beginning with Rousseau’s Confessions (1782) and reading a mixture of canonical and non-canonical texts, fictional and non-fictional sources, from the 18th century to the present, you will ask fundamental questions about confessional writing, the notion of self-image, and the relationship between writing, identity, and gender. You will interrogate traditional notions of nonfiction and fiction, real and fake, public and private, self and other, assessing the extent to which we can be said, today, to live in an age of confession.

In the past decade, as social media and internet culture have provided new platforms to share details of our everyday experiences and milestone life events, ‘oversharing’ or ‘TMI’ have increased in popularity as cultural terms of condemnation. Yet, through this module’s examination of contemporary online cultures, you will be asked to reconsider the concept of confession from an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing on aspects of media studies, life writing, political philosophy, ethics, and literary criticism.

Writers/critics may include: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Janet Malcolm, James Baldwin, Roz Kaveney, Maya Angelou, Helen Macdonald, Jackie Kay, Tao Lin, Lauren Berlant, Dodie Bellamy, and Kim Kardashian.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Writers Among the Ruins: Genre, Self, and Memory after the First World War

No aspect of British intellectual and artistic life was untouched by the upheavals brought about by the First World War – ‘a crack across the table of History’ as Ford Madox Ford called it. This module looks at responses by some of the most significant writers of the following decades as they sought to understand the war’s personal, literary, and cultural significance. It focuses upon four authors who fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and who returned, literally and metaphorically, to make sense of their various war experiences for years afterwards.

The module opens with the poetry and autobiographical fiction of Siegfried Sassoon (the Sherston trilogy, 1928-36) and his close friend Robert Graves (Goodbye to All That, 1929). It then turns to two of the most challenging, and rewarding, modernist texts of the period: Ford Madox Ford’s multi-volume Parade’s End (1924-28), arguably the finest novel about the First World War, and David Jones’s epic poem In Parenthesis (1937), a fusion of contemporary history and myth described by T.S. Eliot as a ‘work of genius’. Throughout the module we will explore how these writers reconfigured traditional categories of writing – fiction, memoir, autobiography, chronicle, lyric poetry and verse narrative – as they sought appropriate modes of self-representation, reflection and remembrance. We will make extensive use of the texts that surround these key works, especially the authors’ own letters, diaries and essays, as well as the body of literary criticism they have inspired. You will also be encouraged to explore wider contexts for these works, including the authors’ literary networks and significant social and political issues such as female suffrage and conscientious objection.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

Please note that the optional module information listed on the website for this programme is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.