Histories of Literature optional modules may include:
Chaucer and his Legacy
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
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 may 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 Wyatt to Donne
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.
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
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.
Writing the Restoration
Writing the Restoration will engage with the poetry, drama and prose of one of the most vibrant and innovative periods of English literature. In 1660 the young Charles II was restored to the throne after 18 years of civil war and republican government. The return of the king was greeted enthusiastically by many of the leading writers of the period, and was shortly followed by the re-opening of the theatres, which had been closed since 1642. For other writers, meanwhile, the Restoration was the greatest calamity of their adult lives – an event to which many were never truly reconciled. In this module we will explore writers’ contrasting reactions to the Restoration, examining how some took advantage of the new opportunities of their era, while others sought consolation elsewhere in religion, philosophy, family or sex. We will also consider how the changed circumstances of the Restoration enabled some people from historically disadvantaged groups – women; non-elite men – to engage with print, manuscript and theatrical culture.
Romantics and Romanticisms
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.
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
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.
Making it New: Modernism and Literary Innovation in the Early Twentieth Century
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.
New World Orders: Literature after 1945
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.
Twenty-First Century Literature
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: Elizabethan and Jacobean
Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean is a core component in the BA English Literature curriculum and will offer a powerful and pleasurable encounter with our most valued writer: Shakespeare. The module is founded on close reading and experience of the plays as scripts and performances, and on the chance to explore and analyse them as such. It seeks to equip students to think about and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and poems for themselves.
Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean will offer students the opportunity to read texts from across the whole span of Shakespeare’s writing career, and will explore questions of genre, dramaturgy, poetic form, historical context, and political and philosophical engagement.
Themes in Literature optional modules
This module will explore the afterlife of ‘the Gothic’ in literature over the last two centuries, from texts such as Shelley’s Frankenstein to Egan’s The Keep. The module will consider the genre of the Gothic, as well as the tropes and conventions of the Gothic that are incorporated into or appropriated by a variety of other literary genres, including science fiction, detective fiction, horror, and romance. We will explore categories such as the ‘Urban Gothic’, the ‘Female Gothic’, and the ‘Southern Gothic’, as well as themes such as the uncanny, the double, the Gothic body, and repression and the spectre of the past.
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?
Rude Writing: Satire and its Targets
Rude Writing: Satire and its Targets offers the opportunity to study satiric texts across an extended historical period, from the medieval period to the early nineteenth century and to investigate what is meant by satire. Satirists use wit and ridicule to expose vice and folly in order, supposedly, to reform faults and weaknesses, though motives of revenge and spite are often more likely. We will read some of the major works of satire, and will consider some of the key theoretical and methodological issues specific to satire with the aim of understanding what satire is, what its targets are and the reasons for these, and what means it uses to attack those targets. We will look at a variety of forms that satire takes, which may include epistles, lampoons, epigrams, poetry, novels, and parodies.
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 from around the globe. Tragedy was invented for performance in front of an audience and semester 1 bridges two golden eras of dramatic production: Classical Greece and Renaissance England. The first half of the module explores the plays of the three great Athenian tragedians of the fifth century BCE, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides; from there it moves to high English Renaissance revenge tragedy in the works of John Webster and his contemporaries. 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? Does tragedy deal with universal or local concerns? What is the relation between tragedy on the stage and in other literary genres? How does the crafted form of artistic tragedy differ from the merely tragic?
The Use of Genre: Nefarious Plots, Cheap Thrills and the Search for Meaning
Read by scholars with guilt if at all, ‘genre fiction’ – including science fiction, romance, fantasy, and detective fiction – is often thought of as being unworthy of serious scholarly attention. Paradoxically, the genres with the most active readerships are easily dismissed as bad, popular, or cheap. Yet it is increasingly being noticed that scrutiny of genre fiction may be able to supply historical or theoretical perspectives on culture which canonical literary fiction cannot.
This module will introduce students to a cross-section of genres from the recent history of popular literature, organised by theme rather than in order of chronological appearance. Students will be exposed not only to a range of generic forms but also to a new set of ways of theorising them. When we grab our airport reading, what is happening? In what cultures does the reader of popular fiction participate? By what right are these fictions held to be lesser than their canonical contemporaries?
Spaceships, elves, magnifying glasses, and windswept clifftops – these and many others are the clichés of genre fiction. But what lies beneath them? What use might they have? And, most of all, how can we use them to think about our culture and ourselves?
The key aim of the module will be to develop students’ understanding of selected key genres in their critical, historical, industrial and theoretical contexts. Due to the team-taught structure of the module, a wide variety of genres and approaches will be covered in detail, encouraging close appreciation and awareness of genre as a means of interpreting and analysing film.
Film Theory and Criticism
The key aim of the module will be to develop students’ understanding of the key theoretical and critical debates that underpin contemporary film studies. Due to the team-taught structure of the module, a wide variety of approaches will be covered in detail, encouraging close appreciation and understanding of the central theoretical and critical issues.
Transatlantic Literary Relations
This module explores the restless and productive dialogue and exchange that characterises transatlantic literary discourse. It will explore issues such as early expressions of American literary nationalism; travel writing by Europeans in America and Americans in Europe; the politics of transatlantic publication and republication; and fictions that engage what Henry James termed “the international theme.” The module will draw on example from the nineteenth- to the twenty-first century and range across forms and genres including novels, short stories, poetry and literary non-fiction. Students will develop a nuanced and critical understanding of the “Anglo-American literary tradition”; explore processes of exchange, miscommunication and appropriation; and study the work of a range of writers that may include Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Edith Wharton, James Baldwin, Geoff Dyer and Jonathan Safran Foer.
This module explores the ways in which the transatlantic is convenied and operates as a cultural space. Key themes and ideas covered will include expatriate writing and communities; the experience of diaspora and Paul Gilroy’s theorisation of the ‘Black Atlantic’; and ways in which culture and technology challenge and collapse the spatial divide of the Atlantic Ocean. The module will draw on a range of literary forms including novels, short stories, non-fiction and critical theory. Students will explore ways of thinking beyond “Anglo-American” models of Atlantic culture;engage theorisations of cultural and critical space; and study the work of a range of writers that may include W. E. B. du Bois, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, Graham Greene, Fred D’Aguiar and William Gibson.
Drama and Media Writing
Drama and Media Writing will inspire you to experiment with content, form and technique in dramatic writing for stage and screen, and to reflect in a focussed way on your own writing process. You will engage with individual media works within their scheduled and marketed contexts, and share work in progress with fellow students.
Editing: Theory and Practice
Editing introduces the theory and practice of editing through a combination of contextualising lecture-workshops and a substantial practical Editing Project. This module will introduce students to the theory and practice of editing. Students will gain a structured overview of issues relating to the editing of literary/media texts from self-editing (editing as a creative strategy, building on the students’ creative writing to date) and editing as a mentoring strategy, to editing as a professional activity involving different types and levels of expertise.
They will be introduced to both generic and genre/media specific editing techniques, and will be given the opportunity to hone their ability to make realistic (critical and aesthetic) editorial judgments through a practical editing project, involving the collaborative selection, text-editing/proof-reading, and in-house publication of an anthology of work by fellow students.
Voices in Fiction
In this module, we apply a sociolinguistic understanding of language to the construction of people and place in fictional texts. The topics build on those covered in the first-year compulsory module 'Language for Literature', such as accent, dialect and prescriptivism, providing a more detailed discussion of these concepts and their treatment in variationist sociolinguistics (e.g. ethnicity, age, gender, social class) and language attitudes research. Students will explore how these real-world concepts play a critical role in the fictional depiction of people and place, considering works such as Wuthering Heights, Trainspotting, Firefly and Look Back in Anger. Students will examine how the social status of language varieties informs the portrayal of character dialect, narratorial styles, and constructed languages, comparing and contrasting works from different English-speaking cultures, and across modes such as literary prose and cinema. As well as lectures outlining the main theories and concepts, students will also have opportunities for hands-on analysis of literary texts and authentic data in the workshops.
The Language Poets Use
This module is for students interested in looking closely and analytically at the verbal choices in a range of important but challenging poetry, mostly but not exclusively twentieth century. We will read and analyse individual poems by poets such as Hopkins, Hardy, Eliot, Stevens, Auden, Heaney, Hill, Hughes, Plath, Jamie, Shapcott, and Oswald. A principal aim is to demystify the intractable poems, and to understand better what it is that makes the tractable ones powerful, in both cases thinking about the meanings of the verbal resources that are being used. The module concentrates on the grammar and systems of the language of the poems, and on how these shape readers’ responses.