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Literature matters

In this module you'll think about literature in the light of key contemporary concerns: representation and identity, the environment, politics, and the imagination. Along the way, you'll read books in a diverse range of literary genres, including novels, drama, short stories, poetry, and essays. In your literary encounters, you'll travel in time from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first century and read texts from Britain and around the world.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module takes a topical approach to literature. There are four blocks, each devoted to a key topic, and a wide-ranging selection of set texts. You’ll develop skills in analysing literary features, including narrative structure, characterisation, dialogue, and metaphor, equipping you with the skills you’ll need for English Literature at OU level 3. You’ll also encounter some key contemporary themes in literary study, including postcolonialism and ecocriticism (the study of literature and the environment). There is a substantial Independent Study component, enabling you to reflect on literature and its place in the world and develop your critical skills.

Block 1: Literature, Identity, and Representation
This first part of the module deals with the topic of identity. It asks the question—can literature represent us?

You’ll read:
  • Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was highly controversial when it appeared in 1891. As well as digging into Wilde’s innovative writing style, you’ll explore its key themes of social transgression, ‘art for art’s sake’ and gay identity.
  • Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000), an often hilarious novel that follows the fortunes of two interlinked families in a multicultural North London neighbourhood from the 1970s to the 1990s.
  • Sylvia Plath’s poetry collection Ariel, first published in 1965, two years after her tragic early death. You’ll examine how Plath represents female identity and how readers continue to be fascinated with her poems and her life.
  • Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York (2003), Whitehead’s love letter to New York City. It’s a unique book in which voices and identities are as fluid and mobile as the urban experience itself.  

Block 2: Literature and the Environment
This block covers the vast and fascinating topic of how literature represents the natural world. It asks the key question—can literature help us understand our relationship with the natural environment?

In this block, you’ll study:
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (1798), a groundbreaking and highly influential collection of Romantic poetry. You’ll learn about the ideas behind the Romantic movement and how Romantic poets developed revolutionary new techniques for representing the natural world.
  • Anne-Marie Fyfe’s No Far Shore (2019), which combines prose and poetry to enchanting effect. Fyfe’s book charts her fascination with coastlines and their histories in Britain and North America. These are places where the human and natural realms have been intersecting for millennia.
  • The New Zealand Māori writer Patricia Grace’s 1986 novel, Potiki, which follows one Māori community’s struggle to retain their land when they are faced with ruthless property developers. Potiki is an eye-opening novel that gives voice to indigenous understandings of the spiritual links between the human world and the natural environment.

Block 3: Literature, Power, and Politics
This part of the module is all about how literature relates to power. The following three texts you’ll read each relate to the key question – can literature write back to power?

  • William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (1604) is a stark and memorable play about one woman’s confrontation with the corruption of state power in her home city.
  • Abdulrazak Gurnah’s 2017 novel, Gravel Heart, talks back to Shakespeare’s play in provocative ways. Moving from Tanzania to 1990s London, Gravel Heart depicts shifting power dynamics within families against the wider contexts of the African diaspora experience in Europe.
  • George Orwell’s Essays are fearless literary interventions in the politics that shaped their time, the 1930s and 1940s. Orwell deals with the problems of class and empire, but also with how power seeks to shape language itself.

Block 4: Literature, Escape, and the Imagination
This final block examines how and to what ends literature can reimagine reality. In doing so, it asks the question—how does literature open up new worlds and possibilities?

You’ll study:
  • Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), a fascinating account of a society living on a fantastical island, Utopia, which its author insists is real.  
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), one of the most talked-about books of its time. A so-called ‘sensation novel’, it leads its readers on a breathtaking journey of suspense.
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911), a classic children’s novel that revolves around a hidden garden and a mysterious house.
  • Isabel Allende’s The Stories of Eva Luna (1989), a book of South American short stories that fuses reality with legend, captivating readers across the globe with its vivid characters and settings and its appropriation of South American magical-realist traditions.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated tutor group forums.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Literature matters starts once a year – October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2035.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules Discovering the arts and humanities (A111) and Cultures (A112), or the discontinued modules The arts past and present (AA100) and Voices, texts and material culture (A105).

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

The recommended modules before studying A240 are the OU level 1 modules Discovering the arts and humanities (A111) and Cultures (A112), or the discontinued modules The arts past and present (AA100) and Voices, texts and material culture (A105). All of these modules include an English Literature component and develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials that you will need to progress to studying English Literature at OU level 2.

Before you commence the module, you will find it useful to read and participate in the English Subject Forums, which contain links to resources highly relevant to OU level 2 English study, including bridging materials between OU levels 1 and 2.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2035.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 15/07/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You will receive four printed module books, each with an introduction that unpacks key issues, and in-depth, illustrated chapters devoted to each set text. You’ll also have access to abundant online content produced especially for this module. The module website includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • a learning journal
  • a glossary of critical terms used over the course of the module
  • online activities and resources accompanying each week of study
  • bespoke audio and video content commissioned especially for the module to support your study
  • an assessment guide
  • access to online tutorials and forums

You will also have access to the OU Library’s comprehensive range of ebooks, databases, and online resources to support your study.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Thomas More Utopia Penguin £7.99 - ISBN 9780141442327 Penguin Classics; Illustrated edition (30 Aug. 2012)
  • Isabel Allende The Stories of Eva Luna Scribner UK £8.99 - ISBN 9781471165665
  • Abdulrazak Gurnah Gravel Heart Bloomsbury £9.99 - ISBN 9781408881309 Bloomsbury Publishing; 1st edition (17 May 2018)
  • Zadie Smith White Teeth Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140276336 Penguin; 1st Paper Back - 6th Impression edition
  • Sylvia Plath Ariel: The Restored Edition Faber and Faber £10.99 - ISBN 9780571236091 Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 April 2007)
  • Colson Whitehead The Colossus Of New York Fleet £8.99 - ISBN 9780708898765 1st edition (1 Feb. 2018)
  • Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1802 Oxford World's Classics £8.99 - ISBN 9780199601967 Lyrical Ballads, 1798 and 1802 - Oxford World's Classics Fiona J. Stafford (editor of compilation), William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Paperback (11 Jul 2013)
  • Anne-Marie Fyfe No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters Seren Books £9.99 - ISBN 9781781725177
  • George Orwell Essays (Penguin Modern Classics) £14.99 - ISBN 9780141183060 Paperback – 29 Jun. 2000
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden (Oxford World's Classics) Oxford University Press £7.99 - ISBN 9780199588220 OUP Oxford; New edition (10 Mar. 2011)
  • Patricia Grace Potiki (Penguin Modern Classics) £9.99 - ISBN 9780241413555 Penguin Classics (27 Feb. 2020)
  • William Shakespeare (Author): A.R. Braunmuller (Anthology Editor) , Robert N. Watson (Anthology Editor) (ed) Measure For Measure Bloomsbury £10.99 - ISBN 9781904271437 Published, 23 Jan 2020, 3rd edition
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon Lady Audley’s Secret (Oxford World's Classics) Oxford University Press £9.99 - ISBN 9780199577033 OUP Oxford; New edition (12 Jan. 2012)
  • Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray Oxford University Press £4.99 - ISBN 9780199535989 OUP Oxford; New edition (17 April 2008)

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A240 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.