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English Literary Modernism


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: coursework of 1500 words (10%), a research portfolio (45%) and a 3000-word essay (45%)

Module description

In this module we introduce you to some of the most influential literary works of the early twentieth century, and the rapidly changing culture which produced them. The best-known works of early twentieth-century English literature (such as Eliot's The Waste Land, Joyce's Ulysses, Woolf's To the Lighthouse) have typically been discussed as examples of 'modernism', a term which is usually taken to mean writing that self-consciously rethinks literature's representational function, resulting in a distrust of conventional literary techniques in favour of experimental verbal forms.

But the label of modernism misleadingly attributes a coherence defined solely in terms of its up-to-date-ness to a very heterogeneous body of writing. In this module we will ask what 'modern' can mean in relation to literature and literary culture, and investigate the claims of novelty and radicalism that some of these writers - and their readers - attached to their work. We will study the historical and social conceptions of the role of the writer, the reader and of literature itself.

The module will be taught in seminars, about a third of which will concern the historical and theoretical context of modernism, while the rest will be based around single texts, ordered roughly chronologically and intended to focus issues raised in the contextual seminars.

Indicative syllabus

  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  • T.S. Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' and 'The Waste Land'
  • Henry James, 'The Turn of the Screw'
  • James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • James Joyce, Ulysses: the 1922 text
  • Ezra Pound, 'Hugh Selwyn Mauberley'
  • Ezra Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound
  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
  • Virginia Woolf, Street Haunting
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
  • W.B. Yeats: 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree', 'The Song of Wandering Aengus', 'No Second Troy', 'The Magi', 'A Coat', 'The Second Coming', 'Sailing to Byzantium', 'Leda and the Swan', 'Long-Legged Fly', 'Easter 1916', 'September 1913'

Learning objectives

By the end of this module you will have:

  • gained a methodology for studying modernism
  • the research tools and conceptual structures for studying twentieth-century literature in depth
  • an understanding and an ability to critique the formal qualities of modernist literature
  • a strong grasp of the relationship between literary modernism and its socio-historical context.