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Literature and Visual Culture


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenors: Luisa Calè, Victoria Mills
  • Assessment: a 2000-word essay (35%), 1000-word title and bibliography for research essay (10%) and 3000-word research essay (55%)

Module description

This module explores the relationship between literature and visual culture. What is it like to read, imagine and visualise a literary text in a culture of manuscripts, prints, exhibitions, satirical cartoons, photographs?

The first term introduces you to key genres in which writing and visual media converge. You will look at medieval illuminated manuscripts and sixteenth-century emblem books, then explore how they are reinterpreted by the Romantic engraver-poet William Blake. We will then turn to how visual media reinvented literary texts, examining how extracts from Shakespeare’s plays and Milton’s Paradise Lost became subjects for poetic pictures and literary galleries (1789-1805). We will also explore how Romantic authors Keats, Hunt, Lamb and Landon responded to paintings, Wordsworth to the challenge of writing about the city after the invention of the panorama, and what early twentieth-century film editing learns from Milton’s seventeenth-century epic.

The second term focuses on the Victorian period. Topics include literature in the age of photography, the mid-Victorian illustrated novel (thinking about Charles Dickens and his illustrators) and the relationship between word and image in Pre-Raphaelite painting and poetry. You will study the interconnections between visual and written art forms and will also be introduced to key debates in aesthetics and to recent theorisations of the relationship between the verbal and the visual.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of visual culture
  • analyse how literature is read and reinvented through visual forms in changing media cultures
  • apply disciplinary approaches to writing and visual media
  • conduct intermedial modes of analysis and close reading
  • formulate your own research questions
  • identify your object of research, essay title and bibliography.