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 yourself with the core skills necessary for success in the study of English literature at university. It fosters the skills of practical criticism of 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. You are also given opportunities to develop your skills over the course of the year through practical criticism sessions.
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 (19th-21st centuries). 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 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.
English Language: Present, Past and Future
This module aims to raise your awareness and knowledge of variation, diversity and change in language, with reference to regional variation in contemporary Britain, to diversity in present-day channels of communication, and also to changes in language over time. In doing so, the module provides an introduction to the history of the English language from Anglo-Saxon to present day and equips you with a knowledge of the systems of language needed to analyse developments in English sentence syntax, morphology, lexis and phonology.
The Invention of America: Texts and Contexts 1607-present
The module provides you with an introduction to American literature, developing your responses to written and visual narratives of the ‘New World’ and of the United States of America, from the initial, colonial rhetoric of discovery and the Puritan call for the foundation of a ‘City upon a Hill’ to the establishment of national cultural traditions in the nineteenth century and beyond.
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 2015-16 give an indication of the range and types of modules we usually offer. Please see our website for further details. 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
Old English Language and Literature
Few students of English have the opportunity to study the literary culture of its first six centuries – the works of the Anglo-Saxon and the Viking Age. This module will introduce students to the study of Old English literature and language. You will learn the language skills necessary to translate and analyse poetry and prose written in Old English, and do this using online hypertexts, textbooks, and learning aids.
The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are among the greatest literary achievements of the late Middle Ages. The text contains a compendium of different stories, offering wide-ranging insights into the richness of late medieval English culture and literary tradition. It is also a radical and experimental work, which places different genres in competition with one another to challenge and subvert the assumptions they encode. On this module you will encounter some aspects of medieval culture that you have already studied, and others that will be entirely new: complex gender and sexual politics; ecclesiastical and institutional greed; class struggle; suffering and endurance in the face of extreme adversity; flatulence, murder, fairies, and demons.
Shakespeare and His Contemporaries
This module introduces you to the rich and dynamic world of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. You will study a range of texts across dramatic genres, written between the 1580s and the 1620s; the reading list will typically include plays by William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Webster, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton and John Fletcher. The texts studied provide access to a broad range of issues including, for example, staging in the public amphitheatres and indoor theatres; theatrical conventions and practice; genres and subgenres (e.g. city comedy, revenge tragedy); audience; the relationship between drama and (court) politics; regulation and censorship.
Seventeenth-Century Literature and Society
This module explores how early modern writers responded to issues in a particularly turbulent period that witnessed civil war, the execution of the monarch and the temporary instigation of an experimental form of republican government. You will explore the emotional highs and lows of this extraordinary period in literature that ranges from the sublime to the obscene. Key topic areas include the court culture of James I and Charles I, the Civil War, Republic and Restoration. Key authors usually include Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Andrew Marvell, John Milton and Lord Rochester.
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 Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, early feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, and labouring class poets such as John Clare.
Victorian Literature: From the Brontës to the Nineties
While it pays attention to two poetic careers (notably Browning’s and Hopkins’s) which between them nearly span the era and do much to define it, this module does not attempt to cover the literary output of the Victorian age in all its vastness and variety. Rather, it seeks to set up connections and comparisons which travel from one end of the period to the other. Initially, it will focus on the three Brontë sisters, representing each sister by one novel plus—if time allows—some shorter works. In the second term, the bulk of the reading will be drawn from the fiction of the 1890s (Gissing, Hardy, Moore).
American Modernism 1880-1960
This module introduces you to the analysis of Modernism: the literary and artistic responses to a period of enormous change in America. The spectrum of artistic and literary expressions, moving from nineteenth-century Realism towards experimental Modernism, are seen in the context of historical, socio-economic, cultural and intellectual developments. The module develops a thematic approach to chosen works, exploring themes such as American identity, race, gender, the city, the American Dream and nature.
Literature Between the Wars 1918-39
The period 1918-1939 was a complex and traumatic one in our history – and one of unprecedented 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.
Banned Books: A Literary History of the United States
In considering literary and cultural texts from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bluest Eye, this module offers a literary history of the United States through the lens of the banned book, focusing on the changing – or otherwise – priorities of censors and how they reflect changes in society. Some of the questions the module hopes to answer include: Why were these books censored? What can (or should) be regulated? Who is (or should be) the authority?
Third year modules
Lovers and Fighters in Medieval English Literature
The literature of the early and later Middle Ages is home to some of the best known lovers and fighters in English literature. In this module you will study some that you have heard of, including the monster-slaying Beowulf, and legendary kings, queens, and knights like Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Gawain. You will also encounter a range of other holy men and women as you have never seen them before: a militarised warlord Christ who defeats death with the help of a talking tree; St Andrew drowning satanic cannibals in an urban wilderness; Judith, a warrior princess who beheads a diabolical general in the defence of her people; and the soldier-turned-hermit St Guthlac, a fen-dwelling recluse who defends an ancient burial mound from winged demons.
Topics in Renaissance Literature and Culture
This module invites you to take a different approach to the study of literature by focusing 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, and John Donne, but attention will also be given to women writers and to the book collections and writing habits of the ‘not famous.’
Topics in Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s Background
This module aims to encourage you to analyse Shakespearean texts in their historical and cultural contexts. The content of the module will vary according to the ‘topic’ selected for study. For example, the particular focus could be on ‘Shakespeare’s Afterlives’: responses to and rewritings of Shakespeare's plays by his contemporaries and by later generations. In addition to the plays themselves you will study, among other things, late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century rewritings, the handling of Shakespearean themes in (post-)modern novels and Shakespeare in performance (theatre and film).
This module aims to introduce you to 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 that text the module arranges a glittering constellation of satirical writings, in both prose and verse, by the writers whose names along with Swift’s have come to define the mode: Pope, Fielding, and (in English translation)Voltaire. Samuel Johnson will also feature, and likewise Charlotte Lennox.
Topics in British Romanticism
In this module you will read a range of Romantic novelists, including writers familiar to you such as Jane Austen and Mary Shelley, and new ones as well. You will consider issues of class and gender as they appear in a variety of novels of the period. You will also examine some of the subgenres and literary modes that characterise the romantic novel, including domestic realism, the gothic, the Jacobin (political) narrative, and autobiographical fiction. As you read the psychological revelations of Hays and Wollstonecraft, the domestic dramas of Burney and Austen, the political thriller as told by Godwin, and the supernatural horrors spun by Lewis and Shelley, you will consider key issues such as: politics; sexuality; sensibility; education; gender; national identity; narrative voice; tradition and experiment; transgression and conservatism; humour; the sublime; celebrity and anonymity; nature and the city.
Topics in Victorian Literature
This module involves 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. The points at which their paths crossed will be of particular interest, since each writer is richly revealed by the contrast that the other presents; but the topic will be so organised as to keep them for the most part separate, with Dickens probably occupying the whole of the first term and Gaskell the whole of the second.
Contemporary American Literature and Culture
In the influential 1938 essay entitled ‘The American Century’, Henry R. Luce famously argued that the U.S. had become ‘the most powerful and the most vital nation in the world.’ This module focuses on the incredibly rich and varied culture produced in the U.S. in the second half of the ‘American Century’ and the beginning of the new millennium. The module places works of literature, art, photography and film within the socio-economic and intellectual context of late twentieth-century western culture. It thus explores recent phenomena and ideas, such as our obsession with the media, communication and information, the rise of the suburb, second and third wave feminisms, our dependence on technology, pressurised notions of masculinity, the demise of ideologies and the constructed nature of personal identity.
New Voices in Ethnic American Literatures
This module explores the vibrancy and richness of contemporary American literature, with a specific focus on authors from a variety of ethnic minorities. In the first term you will look at writers from communities with a long history in the US (African Americans, Native Americans, etc.), while in the second term you will move on to consider narratives about recent immigrants to the US. Instead of providing an overview of any one cultural tradition, the module is organised thematically around 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.
Topics in Contemporary Literature
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’? Because this study will be so concerned with context, we will focus on a fairly brief period, the years 1958-1968. These were years 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-publicised 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.
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.