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.