What you will study
The thrust of this module is captured in its title “literature in transition”. This suggests that the relation between texts and contexts, and between different texts, cannot be thought of in fixed ways. You will be encouraged to consider these relations as processes. In examining texts from 1800 to the present day closely, you are asked to consider whether literature generally should be understood in terms of continuous transitions. There are three parts to the module.
Part 1: Realities (weeks 1-12, six set texts),
This covers the period 1800-1870. Here you will examine literary works which were produced within English-speaking contexts and reflected social realities of the time. The set texts here complicate notions of literary study which you have encountered at Level 2. Some of these texts follow narrative strategies which allow for multiple and contradictory readings. Some work deliberately across several conventional genres. Seemingly these texts were written to generate complex responses and question conventions. They appear to push the boundaries of interpretation and genres. All do this with an intense awareness of the social issues which they contemplate. This part as a whole, therefore, encourages you to question conventional approaches to genre and interpretation. And, you are asked to think about the relationship between literature and history. The texts in question here are: Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Thoreau’s Walden, poetry by Alfred Tennyson and Arthur Clough, and George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss.
Part 2: Movements (weeks 13-21, six set texts)
Covering the period 1870-1940, this part develops the issues raised in Part 1 and takes you beyond them. Self-conscious artistic and intellectual movements played a significant part in the literature of this period. Different phases of modernist experimentation deliberately played with literary expression, form and effect. Ideas from other fields were actively brought to bear upon literature: from, for example, psychology, sociology, philosophy, science. This is also a period of very significant social and political transitions. Stronger ties and exchanges developed within Europe and across the Atlantic. The imperialist domination of Europe in the world was challenged by new anti-colonial nationalisms. Political ideologies – capitalism, socialism, fascism – were hotly debated. A series of global conflicts, particularly World War 1, changed the face of global arrangements. All this was reflected in the literature of the time, both as themes and through the stylistic experiments mentioned above. The chosen texts here enable you to examine literature in relation to a more complex English-speaking world and the global situation at large. The texts here include: J.M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Katherine Mansfield’s short stories, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, two parts from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts, and Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight.
Part 3: Futures (weeks 22-31, seven set texts),
Examining texts from 1940 to the present, the picture of literature from Parts 1 and 2 is expanded further, leading towards features of the contemporary (our) world. You will focus on several trajectories of transition here. The changing global context is traced from World War 2 to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and beyond. The increasingly close connections between countries across the world provide the backdrop: variously, in the postcolonial sphere, during the Cold War, through the European Union, through economic globalization. Identity-based movements -- along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, religion – challenged traditional social orders, and continue to be passionately debated. These transitions have wrought a sea change in the current condition of literature and literary criticism. Also, technological developments in mass and new media have transformed literary production and reception. You will engage with these exciting recent and contemporary developments through carefully chosen literary texts, to obtain a sense of our world. Literary works featured in this part are: Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Tayib Saleh’s Season of Migration to the North, David Hare’s Stuff Happens, short stories from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, and a selection of electronic literary works.
Developing a general historical awareness of the past in terms of the present is an important objective of this module. Equally emphasised here are skills of reading and interpreting a wide variety of texts in different media. The assessment strategy tests your independent learning skills. This module will help you sharpen your ideas, present them persuasively, and apply them effectively. Your ability to think outside the box will be tested through reflexive exercises and collaborative and comparative activities. Skills in presenting short and extended arguments persuasively and precisely – vital for writing reports of any sort – will be enhanced. These abilities are sought by employers in, among other sectors, media and creative industries, publishing and education enterprises, publicity and public relations firms.