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Literature in transition: from 1800 to the present

This module draws you into the main currents of literature from 1800 to the present day. You'll engage with some of the most stimulating literary works ever written, and track the seismic historical transitions and transformations relevant to them – with an eye on our present and the future. Numerous major authors are offered for close critical study (Dickens, Tennyson, Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Winterson, and others), alongside exciting but relatively neglected authors. Influential literary movements and critical interventions will be discussed, while leaving ample space for your own ideas.

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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.
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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This module is a natural progression from Reading and studying literature (A230). The workload is not as intense, with tutor-marked...
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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'll 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 (six set texts)
This covers the period 1800-1870. Here you'll 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 OU 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 studied 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 (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 enable you to examine literature in relation to a more complex English-speaking world and the global situation at large.

The texts 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’s Good Morning, Midnight

Part 3: Futures (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'll 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'll 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.

Vocational relevance

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.   

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study materials and who will mark and comment on your written work. Your tutor will use a blend of methods that will include online learning events and moderated online discussion forums. The use of a blend of this kind is designed to help students benefit from tuition whatever their circumstances.

While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


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

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

Literature in transition: from 1800 to the present starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2022. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027. 


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
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU. The module Reading and studying literature (A230) or Telling stories: the novel and beyond (A233) would be ideal preparation, although it is not a formal requirement.

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

    Preparatory work

    You will find it helpful to read as many of the set books as you can before the module begins. 


    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2027.

    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 are in receipt of 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 fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 28/11/2021.

    What's included

    Three module books, each covering one block of study, and access to a module website which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module materials including electronic versions of the printed study materials
    • online exercises
    • audio recordings
    • a module and assessment guide
    • online tutorials and forums.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    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

    • Winterson, J. Oranges are not the Only Fruit Vintage £8.99 - ISBN 9780099598183
    • Mansfield, K. Selected Stories Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199537358
    • Calvino, I. : McLaughlin, M., Parks, T. & Weaver, W. (trans.) The Complete Cosmicomics Penguin £9.99 - ISBN 9780141189680
    • Eliot, G.: Haight, G.S. (ed) The Mill on the Floss Oxford World's Classics £8.99 - ISBN 9780198707530
    • Hare, D. Stuff Happens Faber and Faber £9.99 - ISBN 9780571234066
    • Eliot, T.S. Four Quartets Faber and Faber £10.99 - ISBN 9780571068944
    • Mayhew, H. London Labour and the London Poor Wordsworth Editions £3.99 - ISBN 9781840226195
    • Ford Madox Ford The Good Soldier Wordsworth Editions £2.50 - ISBN 9781840226539
    • Rhys, J. Good Morning, Midnight Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780141183930
    • Lahiri, J. Unaccustomed Earth Bloomsbury £9.99 - ISBN 9780747596592
    • Woolf, V.: Kermode, F. (ed) Between the Acts Oxford World's Classics £6.99 - ISBN 9780199536573
    • Thoreau, H.D.: Rossi, W. (ed) Walden, Civil Disobedience and Other Writings Norton £9.99 - ISBN 9780393930900
    • Thomas, D. Under Milk Wood W&N/Phoenix £8.99 - ISBN 9781780227245
    • Dickens, C.: Bradbury, N. (ed) Bleak House Penguin £7.99 - ISBN 9780141439723
    • Salih, T. : Johnson-Davies, D. (trans.) Season of Migration to the North Penguin £9.99 - ISBN 9780141187204
    • Millington Synge, J.: Collins, C. (ed) The Playboy of the Western World Methuen £8.99 - ISBN 9781350155497

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A335 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 website.