What you will study
In this module, you’ll study a selection of twentieth-century novels, poetry and drama, and participate in some of the major debates that have animated twentieth-century literature and criticism. In addition to the focus on ‘texts and debates’, the module examines in detail the variety of historical contexts in which the literary texts and the critical debates have arisen. The module is organised in four blocks, with each block focusing on a particular literary debate, and four texts of different genres. For each text, you’ll undertake a close analysis of its literary language; examine its historical context(s); discuss competing critical and theoretical interpretations; and relate the particular text and its critical reception to the general debates covered in the block. You are encouraged to develop your own readings of the texts by combining close critical analysis and historical contextualisation, and by organising your views in relation to the relevant critical and theoretical perspectives.
The four blocks are: What is literature for?; Competing modernisms; Varieties of the popular; and Judging literature, and the module follows a loosely chronological approach. Each block lasts for eight weeks, with the debates outlined at the start, and then developed in the discussion of the four texts. Discussion is also linked between blocks.
Book 1, Aestheticism and Modernism contains the teaching material for the first two blocks. The introduction to Block 1 sets out the variety of ways in which the question ‘What is literature for?’ has been answered, and the next four chapters focus on Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Katherine Mansfield’s Short Stories, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song, and Robin Skelton’s selection of 1930’s British poetry.
Block 2 introduces the issues and debates concerned with the competing forms of modernist writing, and then moves on to chapters on T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Betrolt Brecht’s Galileo, and Christopher Okigbo’s Labyrinths with Path of Thunder.
Book 2 The Popular and the Canonical contains the teaching material for the second two blocks.
Block 3 introduces the debates over the relation between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ literary forms, and these debates are taken up and focused in the chapters on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the 1950s U.S. poetry of Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Block 4 introduces both general debates over how literature should be judged, and particular debates over judging literature in the context of literary prizes. Discussion of the Nobel Prize for Literature frames the analysis of the first two texts, which are by Nobel winners: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Seamus Heaney’s New Selected Poems, 1966-1987. Discussion of the Booker Prize frames the analysis of the final two texts – Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise (a Booker finalist) and Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road (a Booker winner).
The third module book is Debating Twentieth-century Literature: A Reader, and it contains indispensable primary and secondary material to accompany the study of the texts and debates featured in the module. Students will need to purchase this book along with the other set texts for the module.