What you will study
There are two parts to the module, one devoted to realism, the other to fantasy. In each, you’ll be reading and studying texts from a variety of periods and in a variety of different forms. This will develop your skills in the analysis of key features such as characterisation, narrative voice, plot structure, imagery, symbolism and verbal style. You'll receive two module books to guide your study and a wealth of online material, including interviews with leading critics and videos of settings used by some of the authors.
Part One – Realism: depicting the world
The first part of the module is all about the following five texts that depict, in diverse ways, the ‘real world’ lived in by their authors. A short introduction will set the scene by discussing past and present ideas about storytelling and realist fiction.
- Thomas Hardy’s richly enjoyable Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). The novel is set in Wessex, a beautifully described and fictionalised version of the Dorset in which Hardy grew up.
- Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913) takes place in a very different world: the high society of early twentieth-century New York. Its central character, the upwardly mobile Undine Spragg, is one of the most intriguing characters in literature.
- Ali Smith's Hotel World (2001) will leap you forward into the twenty-first century. You'll explore the background to a mysterious death through the voices of five very different women.
- Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (1928) is an absorbing and moving evocation of life as a soldier in the First World War. With this text you'll focus on the use of realist literary devices in a non-fiction narrative.
- Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things (1997) is a novel set in twentieth-century southern India. Roy’s attention to the details of the world she is describing and the occasional startling supernatural elements in the book make it the ideal bridge from the realism of part one to the ‘fantastic' writing you'll study in part two.
At the end of part one, in a special ‘Book Club’ section, you'll choose a text to study from a shortlist of five, each option similar in some way to one of the five books you have already read. This is your chance to build on your earlier work on the module, to explore your enthusiasms, and to develop skills as an independent learner.
Part Two – The fantastic: creating new worlds
In the second part, you'll study the techniques used in the following selection of works of fantasy literature. These have been written in a range of different periods, and you'll find there is a range of different ways in which ‘fantastic’ stories relate to the real world we live in. You'll also move beyond the novel, studying poetry, a play, short stories and an illustrated book as well as a classic science fiction novel.
- You'll ground your work on the fantastic by studying one of its most fundamental genres: the fairy tale. You’ll read fairy tales from diverse authors and periods, focusing in particular on the sophisticated retellings of Charles Perrault (1628–1703), the darker work of the Brothers Grimm, the playful and poignant tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) and the challenging adult reversionings of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (1979). You'll learn new ways of analysing the structure of stories that you'll apply in your work later in this part.
- The contemporary English poet Simon Armitage provides a modern translation of the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This fantastic narrative tells of the encounter between Gawain, one of King Arthur’s knights, and a mysterious supernatural figure.
- Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' Stardust (1999) reimagines the genre of the fairy tale with a hero who crosses the boundary between Victorian England and the magical land of ‘Faerie’. Stardust is a close collaboration between the author (Gaiman) and the illustrator (Vess), and you will study the relationship between its vivid text and action-filled pictures.
- Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974), an example of a 'fantastic' text employing many realist devices, uses science fiction to work out the implications of complex political ideas.
- Shakespeare’s captivating play The Tempest (c.1611) is appropriately a story about ends and beginnings, set on an imaginary island inhabited by a magician, his daughter and two mysterious non-human beings.
You will find that some of these set texts engage with difficult topics, including suicide and sexual violence. We appreciate that some students will find it helpful to be aware in advance of material of this kind in specific texts. For this reason, a list of potentially distressing content is provided at the beginning of the module. Contact us if you would like to discuss this further with an advisor in the Student Support Team prior to registering for the module.
You will learn
In addition to exploring the texts and topics detailed above, as you progress through the module, you'll develop skills of close reading and analysis, as well as the ability to think logically and express yourself clearly. You will also increase your proficiency in IT. These are skills highly valued by employers in all sectors.