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EN9C2 Literature and the Lifecourse: From Infancy to the End of Life

This module will look at modern (C20 and C21) UK and US literary responses to the different phases and key transitions of the lifecourse from infancy to old age, engaging perspectives from developmental psychology, psychoanalysis, medicine, sociology and history. It will also think about what it is to write a life, drawing on theoretical and conceptual frameworks from genre studies (lifewriting/(auto)biography, Bildungsroman, Reifungsroman (novel of ‘ripening’). Key themes will include time, work, aging, disability, sexuality, gender and reproduction, and the end of life. Each week the students will look at one or more fictional text, alongside a historically important formulation of the lifecourse categories (from the fields of history, sociology, psychology).


10 x 2-hr seminars; 1 x one-to-one essay tutorial


15 minute presentation


1 x 4000 Words



The final syllabus will be posted shortly, but an indicative selection of texts is given below. This list may change, however. Please contact Liz Barry on for more information about the module and before purchasing any works.

Unit 1: Childhood (Weeks 1-3)

Texts may include:

Excerpts from J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan (1911); James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) ; L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908)

Susan Hill, I’m the King of the Castle (1970)

Alice Childress, A Hero Ain’t Nothing But a Sandwich (1973)

Short stories by Joy Williams (‘Train’), Robert Penn Warren (‘Blackberry Winter’); Katherine Anne Porter (‘The Circus’)


Sigmund Freud, ‘Analysis of a Phobia in a Five Year-Old Boy’ (1909); from Philippe Ariès,

 Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life (1960); from Giorgio Agamben,

 Infancy and History (1993)

Unit 2: Adolescence (Weeks 4-6)

Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening (1891)

J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

Cynthia Voight, Izzy Willy Nilly (1986)

Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue (2015)


From: G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence (1904); Erik Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968); Sarah-Jayne

Blakemore, Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain (2018)


Unit 3: Adulthood (Weeks 7-8)

Henry Green, Living (1929)

From Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900); James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956); Anne Tyler, Morgan’s Passing (1980); Thomas Page McBee, Amateur (2018)


From: Gail Sheehy, Passages (1974); Erik Erikson, Adulthood (1978); Eve Kosofsky

Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (1990)


Unit 4: Old Age (9-10)

Stories: Patrick White, ‘Five Twenty’ (1968); Toni Cade Bambara, ‘My Man Bovanne’ (1972); Alice Munro, ‘Lichen’ (1985), ‘Margaret Atwood, ‘Torching the Dusties’ (2014)

Jonas Jonasson, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (2012)

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (2011)


 From G. Stanley Hall, Senescence (1922); from Elaine Cumming and William Earl Henry,

 Growing Old: The Process of Disengagement (1961); Susan Sontag, ‘The Double Standard

of Aging’ (1972)

Selected Secondary Reading

Jeffrey Arnett, Emerging Adulthood (2006)

Thomas Cole, Journey of Life: A Cultural History of Aging (1992)

Anthony R. D’Augelli and Charlotte J. Patterson, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Identities over the Lifespan: Psychological Perspectives (1995)

Catherine Driscoll, Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory (2002)

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Safe At Last in the Middle Years (1989)

Linda Hess, Queer Aging in North American Fiction (2019)

Susan Honeyman, Elusive Childhood: Impossible Representations (2005)

James Kincaid, Erotic Innocence (1998)

Varda Konstam, Emerging and Young Adulthood: Multiple Perspectives, Diverse Narratives (2008)

Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, Children’s Literature: Criticism and the Fictional Child (1994)

Barbara Newman, Philip R. Newman, Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach (2011)

Ellen Pfifer, Demon or Doll: Images of the Child in Contemporary Writing and Culture (2000)

Susan Pickard, Age, Gender and Sexuality through the Lifecourse: The Girl in Time (2018)

Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan: The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (1983)

Neil J. Smelser and Erik Erikson, Themes of Work and Love in Adulthood (1980)

Paul Willis, Learning to Labour: How Working-Class Kids Get Working-Class Jobs (1976; 2012)

Kathleen Woodward, Aging and Its Discontents: Freud and Other Fictions (1991)

Joseph L. Zornado, Inventing the Child: Culture, Ideology and the Story of Childhood (2001)