We continually review and where appropriate, revise the range of modules on offer to reflect changes in the subject and ensure the best student experience. We will inform applicants of any changes to the course structure before enrolment.
There are three core modules which are taken by all single and combined honours students:
The Art of Criticism: Writing about Literature
The module aims to introduce you to the practice of critical reading and writing and to equip you with the core skills necessary for success in the study of English literature at university. It fosters the skills of close reading literature in different genres, and allows you to develop these skills in your oral and written work. It aims to support you as you become familiar with the conventions of academic writing, the research process, bibliographic practice, and the use of Library Search to access both physical and virtual resources.
Texts and Contexts I: Medieval to 18th Century
This module introduces you to medieval and early modern literatures. It aims to introduce you to some of the important themes, ideas, and genres within each period, and to situate these within the English literary tradition in its wider contexts. You will develop critical and historical skills for close reading and broader analysis.
Texts and Contexts II: Romanticism to the Present
This module introduces you to Romantic, Victorian, Modern, and Postmodern literatures. It will introduce you to some of the important themes, ideas, and genres within these periods, and situate them within the wider English literary tradition. You will further develop the necessary critical and historical skills for close reading and broader analysis which are introduced by Texts and Contexts I.
In addition, all single honours students also take the following three modules:
Critical Approaches to English Literature
This module introduces you to a range of approaches to the study of English literature. Combining practice with theory (and thus complementing but extending the work done in the core module ‘The Art of Criticism’), the course encourages you to examine the principles and prerequisites of informed theoretical engagement and of active critical reading.
Literature Comes Alive
The aim of this module is to explore tangible intersections between life and literature by analysing texts not only as printed words in an anthology, but also as material objects, political interventions, artistic innovations, sensory experiences, and community projects. It encourages you to take their critical reading skills outside the classroom and to make connections between texts and a range of ‘real world’ contexts. You will be introduced to a range of texts and encouraged to think about them in relation to a variety of contemporary material, cultural, artistic, political, technological, geographical, religious, and environmental issues. The works studied will vary year to year, and will come from a range of genres and historical periods.
On the Shoulders of Giants: Intellectual and Cultural Sources for English Literature
The aim of this module is to introduce you to the wealth of intellectual and cultural sources that have influenced the development of literature written in English from the Ancient world to the present. It will encourage you to engage with a range of different texts and genres, literary and otherwise, that have determined the development of literature written in English, and to show awareness of this in your writing. It will show you some of the various ways in which you can demonstrate your knowledge of broader European and World literatures and cultures, and relate them to the intellectual culture of writers who produced works written in English and other languages.
These modules are designed to introduce you to a broad range of texts from across the historical spectrum of literature written in English, and to equip you with the skills necessary for studying literature of all periods in your second and third year. You will study literature in its historical and cultural contexts, learn to analyse texts critically via close reading exercises, and present this analysis in essays and other written assignments.
Year 2 and 3 no core modules
In your second and third years we offer a wide range of exciting modules which cover the full span of English literary history from the middle ages to the present day, and the list typically includes study opportunities in medieval, renaissance, eighteenth-century, Romantic, Victorian, twentieth-century and contemporary literature. These modules are informed by the current research of our staff members, so their focus may vary from year to year, as we aim to offer teaching which reflects current thought at the forefront of our subject specialisms. We also update our modules on an annual basis in response to student feedback in evaluations and in regular meetings with academic staff. Examples of the modules available in 2016-17 give an indication of the range and types of modules we usually offer. In your final year you will have the opportunity to write an extended essay with one-to-one supervision, on a topic which you will decide with the help of an academic supervisor. You will attend several meetings throughout the year with this supervisor, and produce a longer piece of work based on your own independent research and study.
Second year modules
Martyrs and Exiles: Old English Language and Literature
Few students have the opportunity to study the first six hundred years of English language and literature, and the works of literature, history, and hagiography that were written in Old English during the Anglo-Saxon period. This module will teach you the language skills necessary to translate and analyse prose and poetry written in Old English, and do this using the latest online hypertexts, textbooks, and other learning aids. If you are interested in studying literature in its historical, cultural, religious, and mythological contexts, or want to know more about what Tolkien read whilst he was writing The Lord of the Rings, then this module is for you.
The Once and Future King: Arthurian Literature
The literature of the later Middle Ages spans some four hundred and fifty years, and is home to much about Arthur and Camelot. Many figures from Arthurian literature will already be familiar to you, such as Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, Lancelot, Morgan le Fay, Gawain, and Mordred. This module will introduce you to the origins and development of the Arthurian tradition in England, though we will focus on later works such as the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, which focuses on the adulterous affair between Guinevere and Lancelot, and the Alliterative Morte Arthure, in which the world of Camelot falls into destruction and ruin. As well as these works, a good portion of our study will be devoted to Thomas Malory’s prose compilation Le Morte d’Arthur, one of the first books to be printed in England, which broadly defines the Arthurian tradition as we know it today.
This module focuses on the theatre of the 1580s and 1590s, a dynamic period that saw the establishment of the theatre as an entertainment industry and the development of playwriting on an unprecedented scale. In the course of our study you will investigate texts from the major genres of the Elizabethan stage: comedies, tragedies and histories, including subgenres such as revenge tragedy and romantic comedy. In addition to a close analysis of the module texts, you will also learn about the conventions and techniques used by Elizabethan playwrights and actors.
This module focuses on drama written during the reign of King James VI & I, between 1603 and 1625. The Jacobean period was an exceptional time for drama; writers such as William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and John Webster were at the height of their careers, the theatre provided an immensely popular and prolific entertainment industry and playwriting was developing into new and exciting directions. You will investigate plays from the major genres of the Jacobean stage: comedies, tragedies and histories, including subgenres such as citizen comedy and baroque revenge tragedy. In addition to close analysis of the module texts, you will also study the conventions and techniques used by Jacobean playwrights and actors.
Radicalisation and Retreat: Political Landscapes in Early Modern Literature
This module invites you to use your critical skills and your awareness of your own culture and take ‘the long view’ of certain current political issues. In 1633, William Prynne, a puritan with views that we might interpret as extremist, described the plays performed in the public theatres as ‘Sinfull, heathenish, lewde, ungodly spectacles, and most pernicious corruptions.’ This and other conflicting visions of Britishness were played out both rhetorically on the printed page and were physically fought for in an extraordinarily turbulent period that witnessed civil war, the execution of the monarch and the temporary instigation of an experimental form of republican government. On this module you will study the ways in which poets such as Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Andrew Marvell, John Milton and Lord Rochester responded to national vision(s) of British-ness and engaged with issues such as religious extremism, national security and civil liberties.
Eighteenth-Century Fiction: Bunyan to Smollett
This module supplies a showcase for a remarkably rich range of novels, allowing you to sample the work not just of Bunyan and Smollett themselves but of several other novelists also active between 1678 and 1771. It promotes reflection upon the historical rhythms that connect novels separated in time perhaps by several decades, and upon the ways in which novelists echo or transform the themes and emphases of their predecessors; and it pays careful and sustained attention to the various styles of telling, and different ways of seeing, that the novel as a genre accommodates.
British Romanticism 1785-1831
In this module, you will read major poetry and prose of the period known as ‘Romanticism’, a half-century that witnessed revolutionary changes in literature and society. In addition to studying the ‘Big Six’—Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats—you will read a wide range of other Romantic writers including political thinkers such as Thomas Paine, early feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, gothic authors like Mary Shelley, and labouring class poets such as John Clare.
Victorian Literature: From the Brontës to the Nineties
Rather than attempting to cover the literary output of the Victorian age in all its vastness and variety, this module seeks to set up connections and comparisons which travel from one end of the period to the other. Its initial focus is on the three Brontë sisters, representing each sister by one novel: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The fiction of the 1890s then comes under the spotlight: George Gissing’s novel The Odd Women, whose sisters have come a long way from Haworth Parsonage, alongside Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and George Moore’s Esther Waters. In respect of Victorian poetry, attention will centre on two poetic careers (those of Browning and Hopkins) which between them nearly span the era and do much to define it.
Literature Between the Wars 1918-39
This module aims to examine literature between the two world wars with attention to cultural, political and literary contexts. The years 1918-1939 were a complex and traumatic period in our history and one of unprecedented experiment and counter-experiment in the arts. In the wake of the First World War, and in the slipstream of the Second, writers had to find new ways of representing experience, and new ways of validating the role of the imaginative writer in society. This module explores the fiction and poetry of the period with particular attention to the relationships between literary form and cultural contexts. Key texts in recent years have been Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’ and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.
Mad, Bad and Sad: Women in American Literature
In the widely influential Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), Leslie Fiedler identifies a fundamental trait of U.S. literature which distinguishes it from the European tradition: ‘Our great novelists’, he argues, ‘tend to avoid treating the passionate encounter of a man and a woman, which we expect at the center of a novel. Indeed, they rather shy away from permitting in their fictions the presence of any full-fledged, mature women, giving us instead monsters of virtue or bitchery, symbols of the rejection or fear of sexuality’. This module will explore the representation of women and the conceptualization of gender in American writing, with attention to cultural, political and literary contexts. You will engage with feminist writing and other theoretical debates that underpin gender definitions, and the fight for women’s rights. You will also develop a critical understanding of the intersectionality of gender, ethnicity, class and other social categorizations.
Employability in Practice: Applied Humanities
This module is all about taking the skills-set that you have acquired as undergraduates and helping you see ways and means to render it relevant to the world of work. In contrast to academic class-based learning, the focus here is on exciting and useful practical work-based experience. You will have the opportunity to develop your skills in obtaining (preferably) relevant work experience and to be brought into contact with professionals who will help to set project/problem based work opportunity or through a relevant case study. This could be work shadowing, a reflective diary, a portfolio, or a research report.
Third year modules
Final Year Individual Study
The Final Year Independent Study offers you the opportunity to work on a specific topic which you will devise in consultation with your supervisor, in order to produce a sustained piece of research-led critical analysis. You will discuss your work and plan your writing with your supervisor, and pursue in detail your chosen area of literary investigation, producing a dissertation appropriate to third-year English Literature studies. Teaching is through individual tutorials at times agreed between the supervisor and student.
Monsters and the Monstrous: Further Old English Language and Literature
The focus of this module is Beowulf, which tells the story of a young man from southern Sweden who travels to the hall of the Danish king Hrothgar to fight a monster who has been killing and eating the king’s men. This module questions what it meant in the early medieval world to be human, and to be something other than human - a fine line that Beowulf himself crosses more than once. On this module you will also look at other works in Old English to broaden your understanding of monsters and the monstrous in early medieval England. These will include Judith, in which the poem’s heroine Judith sets out on a dangerous expedition from her besieged city to behead the savage drunken leader of the attacking army, and Andreas, in which St Andrew goes on a rescue mission to rescue St Matthew from cannibalistic devil worshippers who inhabit a ruined Roman city.
Nature and Environment in Later Medieval Literature
Europeans in the middle ages were closer to the earth in more ways than one. They lived according to the regular, rhythms of the annual agricultural cycle, and were dependent upon the mercy of the seasons and the bounty of the natural world for their continued survival. In the twenty-first century, as the scale of the ecological crisis becomes increasingly apparent, many are considering the ways in which the literature of the middle ages - a time when people did not think of ‘nature’ as something distinct from the human - can help us to understand our precarious position in the present day. This module will teach you to understand the ways in which nature and the environment appear in the literature of the later middle ages, considering human relationships with landscapes, birds, animals, plant-life, weather, and the elements, over the course of several centuries. We will look at works such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess and The Parlement of Fowles, the works of the ‘Gawain’ poet (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl), William Langland’s Piers Plowman, and other works by unknown authors.
Topics in Renaissance Literature and Culture
The internet offers the opportunity for us all to become authors and critics. Whether it is writing reviews, giving feedback on purchases, tweeting or blogging, it has never been easier to express an opinion in writing to a potentially global audience. This module considers a parallel technological breakthrough some six hundred years ago: the invention of the printing press, which for the first time provided the possibility of quickly printing multiple copies of a page of text. This may not sound impressive in the age of the Kindle but when the alternative was to painstakingly copy out a text by hand, the potential for the printing press to revolutionise the circulation of ideas quickly becomes apparent. This module focuses on book production and book ownership. It asks questions like, ‘Who read Shakespeare’s Sonnets anyway?’ and ‘What else did they read?’ and sometimes, ‘Did these readers venture into print themselves?’ It looks at writers who courted a book-buying public and those who preferred the intimacy of circulating their work in hand-written manuscripts. Authors frequently studied on this module include Sir Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, John Donne but attention will also be given to women writers and to the book collections and writing habits of the ‘not famous’. While poetry will be a dominant genre studied, the module will also offer insight into the diversity of works that made it into print in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Topics in Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s Background
This module will encourage you to analyse Shakespearean texts in their historical and cultural contexts. This year, the particular focus will be on magic and the supernatural on the early modern stage. Supernatural elements (such as fairies, witches, ghosts and prophecies) were a staple of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. They were used in both comedies and tragedies to many different effects: in discourses of gender, for the demonisation of opponents, to mark religious difference, to make a point about the nature and legitimacy (or illegitimacy) of power, and sometimes to celebrate the magic of making theatre. On this module you will study the various ways in which writers of the period used supernatural phenomena to make sense of their world. Our reading will centre on a number of plays by William Shakespeare which are likely to include The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Henry the Sixth and Macbeth. In addition, we will read (extracts from) Elizabethan and Jacobean witchcraft tracts and plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries such as Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton.
This module brings together a range of rich and rewarding texts which in conjunction one with another should conduce to an appropriately ‘joined-up’ understanding of satire in the period under consideration. At the chronological centre of the period, we have the high-water mark of eighteenth-century satire, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Around Swift the module arranges a glittering constellation of fellow satirists: John Gay, Henry Fielding, Charlotte Lennox, Samuel Johnson, and – by special invitation – Voltaire (studied in English translation, of course). Most of the time we shall be reading prose rather than verse (which sidelines Alexander Pope); but satire is generically volatile and crosses all of the period’s major literary ‘kinds,’ entwining itself potentially with all forms of artistic production. So the material prescribed for study on this module is remarkably diverse. With that diversity goes a genuine excitement, since the energies of satire are frequently destabilising and work in a dissident direction. This is comedy whose interest is on the dangerous edge of things.
On this module you will examines texts which alarmed, offended, or polarised readers during the Romantic period, 1785-1831. By exploring these texts in the context of the moral, political, personal, sexual, religious, and aesthetic controversies which surrounded them, you will consider both the norms and transgressions of the period, as well as its most divisive debates. As many of these texts were considered ‘scandalous’ for what they revealed about their authors’ private lives, you will also have a chance to investigate issues of self-fashioning, fame, and personal reputation. You will draw on contextual and biographical material, as well as contemporary critical responses to the texts and their authors. Key issues raised will relate to: class, gender, sexuality, genre, radicalism, celebrity and anonymity, privacy and publicity, and the creation of literary afterlives. The module will cover a range of genres, and is likely to include the poetry of Lord Byron, gothic novels like John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), and Mary Robinson’s Memoirs (1801).
Topics in Victorian Literature
This module is given over in 2016-17 to an intensive consideration of the works and lives (including the cultural networks to which each belonged) of two leading Victorian novelists: Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. Their paths frequently crossed, and indeed each writer is richly revealed by the contrast that the other presents. That juggling, however, will be kept out of the seminar room; rather, the learning and teaching will be so organised as to keep the two writers in separate compartments, with the Dickens novels slotted into the first half of the module and the Gaskell novels into the second. Two chronologically arranged sequences of three texts each are planned, with every novel chosen to illustrate not only the development over time of the author in question but his or her position—relative to the other’s—within the wider literary culture of the period. The works by Dickens which we shall be stringing together are Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations; the corresponding trio for Gaskell will comprise Mary Barton, Ruth and North and South.
Topics in Contemporary Literature
This module seeks to study imaginative writing since the 1950s in relation to a key topic, exploring relationships between texts and literary theory. The current topic is ‘Literature and Power 1958-68’ through which we will explore the creative and ideological aspects of literature, and inquire into its place within the broader culture. How do works of the imagination respond to powerful people and systems? How do they engage with the discourses of power? Does literature have any power of its own with which to ‘answer back’?
The years 1958-1968 were a period of great social change in Britain. A series of events undermined the authority of the ruling establishment. The Empire was vanishing in a process which saw most former colonies gain independence; the Secretary of State for War (John Profumo) was forced to resign over a sex/spy scandal; the ‘satire boom’ ridiculed the pomposity and hypocrisy of the nation’s rulers. In a key moment for literature, the High Court ruled in favour of Penguin Books to allow the publication of D. H. Lawrence’s sexually explicit novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (32 years after it was first banned). Meanwhile, the Cold War developed, leading to a very real fear of nuclear annihilation and heightened political conflict over such events as the war in Vietnam.
Throughout the period, there was a much-publicized youth rebellion in music, fashion, sexual mores and politics. In the midst of these events, came the rise of fiction and poetry that represented working class lives, women’s experience, aspects of sexuality and cultural difference, in new and challenging ways. On this module you will study works such as Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Sylvia Plath’s The Colossus (1960), Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings, Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man and Jean Rhys’s, Wide Sargasso Sea. Our study will be underpinned by a range of theoretical ideas concerned with power and textuality.
Contemporary Ethnic American Literatures
On this module you will explore the vibrancy and richness of contemporary American literature, with a specific focus on authors from a variety of ethnic minorities. To begin with, you will study writers from communities with a long history in the US (such as African Americans and Native Americans), before moving on to consider narratives about recent immigrants to the US. Instead of providing an overview of any one cultural tradition, the module engages with recurrent themes in ethnic literatures, such as the desire to create a strong sense of personal and communal identity, and to develop an original voice; the need to gain acceptance in mainstream American society without losing one’s individuality; the attempt to retrieve forgotten narratives, to challenge dominant historical representations and to contest racial stereotypes and, last but not least, the celebration of one’s heritage and/or of multiculturalism. Contemporary minority writing in the US exposes the harsh reality behind the myth of the American Dream and the ideal of the melting pot. It openly addresses the shameful history of racial discrimination, and the long-lasting legacy of slavery and of the genocide of indigenous population in the New World. While retaining this element of protest against mainstream American culture, ethnic writing is also about self-affirmation, and finding new ways of making one’s voice heard, as the creativity, the freshness, the humour and optimism of some of the texts on the syllabus testify. The module therefore investigates how minority writing reconciles its initial role as ‘literature of resistance’ with its renewed claim, in a globalized world, for a wider readership and a greater, universal resonance.
Creative writing is designed to stimulate you in the practice of three key areas: poetry, fiction and creative non fiction. In the course of two terms you will be exposed to published work in all these areas, and you will be asked to think about why these examples work – or don’t – for you as a reader. In seminars you will spend time discussing both published literature and your own experience of writing in different genres.