MA English literature part 1

Our MA in English Literature introduces you to studying literature ‘in the world’ across three broad themes: ‘Literature and the Popular’, ‘Literature and Revolution’ and ‘Literature and the Global’. You’ll also have a wide choice of optional texts: from early-modern manuscripts to detective fiction; and from classical tragedy to the global short story. You’ll encounter actual archives and databases and be introduced to digitised manuscripts and other original materials as you develop skills in research and analysis. You’ll also work like a professional researcher using specific approaches, following up clues, reviewing context, and making exciting discoveries about your topic.

Vocational relevance

Postgraduate-level research skills will be integrated into the module. You'll be introduced to core research skills in the Foundation block, and then each of the subsequent blocks will reinforce and elaborate on integral skills. Additional vocational skills, such as writing for different audiences, writing teaching material for schools, and presenting research, will be developed in this module.


A893 is a compulsory module in our:

A893 is an optional module in our:


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 postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

The module’s organising rationale encourages you to explore the relationship of literature to culture, and see literary texts as mediating and constituting ‘culture’ but also as material artefacts circulating in different fields of social and political meaning, commercial value, and global exchange.

In each block, you’ll have the choice to study material from the perspective of ‘books and readers’, ‘form and genre’ or 'history and context’. This broad conceptual structure will allow you to select and study exciting primary texts and make original comparative connections between different works without being bound by a fixed reading list. The enhanced three-part optionality of the module gives you greater choice and freedom in navigating module material and will encourage active learning through integrated independent study.

The module is divided into four blocks. Each block has a core text that you're expected to study. These works have a large amount of associated teaching material, and your tutor will refer to them in tutorials. You'll also choose from three strands of study in each block, with three texts in each strand, which means you'll study 13 texts in total. 

You'll start with a Foundation Block that provides all the skills needed for research and study at postgraduate level. Designed to support students new (or returning to) English studies, as well as updating those progressing directly from an English BA qualification, this section outlines the optional structure of the MA. It introduces the three major topics covered in the numbered blocks under the broad theme of ‘Literature in the World’. The core text in this block is Joseph Conrad’s controversial (and topical) colonial novella Heart of Darkness (1899). You’ll learn about Conrad’s intercultural background and examine the debate over representation, racial difference and colonial history sparked by the depiction of African people in his work. You’ll also consider what it means to study Conrad at the present time and in the light of a renewed critical attention to Britain’s colonial past.

The Foundation Block includes specially designed skills units that relate to Heart of Darkness and will be a set of resources that you can return to throughout the MA. In the library skills unit, you’ll learn to use the OU library’s online resources to research Conrad’s fiction. In a ‘skills for scholarship’ unit, you’ll think about your own academic writing, and in a unit on working with secondary materials, you’ll learn how to evaluate and use academic publications to support your research and writing. A further three units cover research on databases, archives and manuscripts (in which you’ll encounter digitised versions of Conrad’s original manuscripts and notebooks). There is a unit on literature in translation and a final unit on adaptation.

Block 1 ‘Literature and the Popular’ 
You'll explore what makes literature popular, how literature interacts with popular culture, and why it matters. In the core text for this block, you'll study the classic mystery novel The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins, a writer very much aware of the increasing size, complexity and diversity of his contemporary readerships.

You'll then choose your first strand of study. You can further explore popular publishing in the nineteenth century from a book history perspective, focusing on Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot’s experiences with serialisation. Alternatively, you'll be able to take a tour of the tragic, tracing the origins of the genre in classical Greek theatre and philosophy, through to the early modern renaissance of tragic drama, with one of Shakespeare’s greatest contributions – King Lear – and even film noir, considered here as a modern iteration of the form. Or you can explore the origins and evolution of detective fiction in relation to various historical, social and international contexts, from the innovative short stories of Edgar Allan Poe to the Chinese tradition of detection in the form of the Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, translated by the Dutch polymath Robert van Gulik.

Block 2 ‘Literature and Revolution’
You'll be introduced to critical arguments as to whether literature is a force for revolution or counter-revolution. Your core text will be one of the most remarkable literary texts ever to have emerged from the context of revolution, John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

To complete this block, you'll have three study options. You can learn about successive revolutions in the experience of reading, encountering an early modern manuscript ‘commonplace book’, a bestseller eighteenth-century novel by Johan von Goethe, and a digital-era work by William Gibson. Or you can investigate revolutions in poetic genre: looking at how and why three poets, Edmund Spenser, Emily Dickinson and Tony Harrison deformed the genres they inherited. The final option is to explore how writers responded to the French Revolution, investigating how they read and rewrote Milton in the white heat of the political controversy of the 1790s, reading a bestselling political novel by William Godwin, dipping into an autobiographical poem by Wordsworth which casts a retrospective eye on the decade, and discovering how the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s has been represented in the twentieth century.

Block 3 ‘Literature and the Global’
You'll be introduced to some key theories and concepts relating to literature viewed from a global perspective, including world literature and comparative literature, globalisation, and postcolonialism. The core text lets you examine what is involved in approaching literature in a global context via a study of The Complete Stories of Anita Desai.

You'll then have your final study options. You can look at translation and the globalisation of print culture through an examination of the Indian writer Rabindrinath Tagore’s poetry collection Gitanjali, Henri Barbusse’s French novel of World War I, Under Fire, and the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o’s 1967 novel A Grain of Wheat. Or you can choose to focus on form and genre in a global context by examining the global short story. This option covers the short stories of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, the modernist short story, and the stories of the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. You also have the option of studying ‘literary geography’— the relationship between literature, landscape, place, and migration — through an examination of the poetry of the nineteenth-century writer John Clare, William Howitt’s 1847 guidebook, The Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets, and Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 novel, Home Fire.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a personal tutor who will help you with the study material, mark and comment on your written work, and provide advice and guidance. Tutors will facilitate online discussions between you and your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums. There will be online tutorials that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Recordings will typically be made available.

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


The assessment details can be found in the facts box.

Course work includes

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

Future availability

MA English literature part 1 starts once a year – in September. This page describes the module that will start in September 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in September 2033. 


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.

Entry requirements

You must hold a UK honours degree (or equivalent) preferably with at least a 2:1 classification. Although your degree does not need to be in English or a closely related subject, you will need some knowledge of the subject as this module assumes all candidates have the knowledge and skills usually acquired by pursuing the subject at undergraduate level.

If you’re in any doubt about the suitability of your qualifications or previous experience, please contact us before you enrol.

Preparatory work

If your degree is not in English or a closely related subject, we strongly recommend that you read material from the set books list (see the 'Study materials' tab). There are four texts that you must read for this module, so if you want to do some reading before the start of the module, these would be the best ones to purchase first. 


Start End England fee Register
07 Sep 2024 Jun 2025 £3715.00

Registration closes 08/08/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in September 2033.

Future availability

MA English literature part 1 starts once a year – in September. This page describes the module that will start in September 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in September 2033. 

Additional costs

Study costs

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

Ways to pay for this module

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner with integrated option pathways
  • dedicated skills units with guidance on resources and research
  • module materials: each week typically has a reading guide, online activities, and further study suggestions
  • visual and audio resources
  • an assessment guide
  • online forums and linked digital resources
  • the OU library and its research resources

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

  • Shakespeare, W.: Wells, S. (ed) The History of King Lear Oxford World's Classics £6.99 - ISBN 9780199535828 Block 1 Option Strand 2
  • Aristotle: Kenny, A. (ed) Poetics Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199608362 Block 1 Option Strand 2
  • Hawthorne, N.: Harding, B. (ed) Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales Oxford World's Classics £9.99 - ISBN 9780199555154 Block 1 Option Strand 1
  • Eliot, G.: Carroll, D., Russell, D. (ed) Middlemarch Oxford World's Classics £6.99 - ISBN 9780198815518 Block 1 Option Strand 1
  • * Collins, W.: O'Gorman, F. (ed) The Moonstone Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780198819394 All students on module A893 are required to read this text.
  • Anonymous: trans. Robert van Gulik (ed) Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An): An Authentic Eighteenth-Century Detective Novel Dover Publications £7.49 - ISBN 9780486233376 Block 1 Option Strand 3
  • Shamsie, K. Home Fire Bloomsbury £8.99 - ISBN 9781408886793 Block 3 Option Strand 3
  • * Milton, J.: Teskey, G. (ed) Paradise Lost (2nd edn) Norton £8.95 - ISBN 9780393617085 All students on module A893 are required to read this text.
  • * Desai, A. The Complete Stories Vintage £9.99 - ISBN 9781784706647 All students on module A893 are required to read this text.
  • Gaskell, E.: Easson, A. (ed) North and South Oxford World's Classics £5.99 - ISBN 9780199537006 Block 1 Option Strand 1
  • * Conrad, J.: Armstrong, P.B. (ed) Heart of Darkness Norton £7.99 - ISBN 9780393264869 All students on module A893 are required to read this text.
  • Godwin, W.: Clemit, P. (ed) Caleb Williams Oxford World's Classics £8.99 - ISBN 9780199232062 Block 2 Option Strand 3
  • Adichie, C. N. The Thing Around Your Neck Harper Collins USA £8.99 - ISBN 9780007306213 Block 3 Option Strand 2
  • Levi, P. The Periodic Table (2012) Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780241956816 Block 3 Option Strand 2
  • Chekhov, A. About Love and Other Stories Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199536689 Block 3 Option Strand 2
  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o A Grain of Wheat Penguin £9.99 - ISBN 9780141186993 Block 3 Option Strand 1
  • Barbusse, H. Under Fire Penguin £9.99 - ISBN 9780141393438 Block 3 Option Strand 1
  • Wordsworth, W.: Abrams, M. H., Gill, S., Wordsworth, J. (ed) The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850 Norton £12.99 - ISBN 9780393090710 Block 2 Option Strand 3
  • Hughes, D.B. In a Lonely Place Penguin £9.99 - ISBN 9780141192314 Block 1 Option Strand 2
  • Harrison, T. Selected Poems Penguin £12.99 - ISBN 9780241964842 Block 2 Option Strand 2
  • Dickinson, E.: Miller, C. (ed) Poems as She Preserved Them Harvard University Press £33.95 - ISBN 9780674737969 Block 2 Option Strand 2
  • von Goethe, J. W.: trans. Michael Hulse (ed) The Sorrows of Young Werther Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140445039 Block 2 Option Strand 1
  • Gibson, W. Pattern Recognition Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780241953532 Block 2 Option Strand 1
  • Christie, A. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Harper Collins USA £8.99 - ISBN 9780007527526 Block 1 Option Strand 3
  • Poe, E. A.: Thompson, G. R. (ed) The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe Norton £8.99 - ISBN 9780393972856 Block 1 Option Strand 3
  • Clare, J.: Robinson, E., Powell, D. (ed) Major Works Oxford World's Classics £10.99 - ISBN 9780199549795 Block 3 Option Strand 3
  • James, C. L. R.: Høgsbjerg, C. (ed) Toussaint Louverture. The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History. A Play in Three Acts Duke University Press £19.99 - ISBN 9780822353140 Block 2 Option Strand 3

NOTE: Four of these set books are core texts that all students study. You'll also choose one of three strands of study in each block, with three texts in each strand, which means you'll study 13 of these set books in total.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components and electronic journals may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader; this applies in particular to historical records that may have been scanned for use online. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

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

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