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EN101 Epic into Novel

Module Convenor 2018-19: Dr John West


On this module you will read a selection of ancient and modern, European, Indian and English epics. You will learn about the transition from the epic to the novel which became the principal world-wide form of narrative from the eighteenth century onwards. You will read a selection of classic English novels and a modern African novel and will develop your skills in analysing narrative, character and style. This module will prepare you for further work on novels and long poems later in the degree.There will be a lecture and a seminar each week and you will need to hand in three pieces of formative writing. For first year students this module is assessed by a three hour examination. Honours students will be assessed either by two five thousand word essays or by one five thousand word essay and a two hour examination.Students are advised to read The Iliad and Middlemarch over the summer.

Lectures and Seminars 2018-19

Lectures: Thursday, 12-1pm, H0.52

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able to:

1. Demonstrate a good working knowledge of two European classical epics, Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid.

2. Discuss the nature of the classical epic and trace its influence and transformations in later European literature.

3. Show knowledge of the English seventeenth-century epic Paradise Lost and of its relation both to the classical epic and to the culture and events of seventeenth-century England.

4. Show knowledge of two classic English novels and understanding of the nature of the novel and of the way in which novelists have built on and varied the traditions of the epic.

5. Show knowledge of non-Western epic and novel, of the cultural conjunctions in which they are composed and of their similarities with and differences from European epics and novels.

6. Show knowledge of the typical structures, motifs and aims of epics and novels and the way in which these are modified to accord with distinct cultural, political and religious circumstances.

7. Show some understanding of the nature of literary genres and the ways in which genres change over time and as a result of different cultural circumstances.

Texts to Buy

These are the main texts for the module. You must read all these texts complete (and the set extracts from The Mahabharata).


  • Homer, The Iliad, trans. Richmond Lattimore (Chicago UP) (ISBN 9780226470498)
  • Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. R. Fitzgerald (Everyman) (ISBN 9781857150858), and
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost (in The Norton Anthology 8th ed Vol B - 16th/Early 17th Century) (ISBN 9780393927184) (NB. You will also be using this Anthology for the Medieval to Renaissance English Literature module). Students wishing to buy a full scholarly edition of Paradise Lost are encouraged to buy Paradise Lost, ed. Alistair Fowler (Longman) (ISBN 9781405832786)


  • The Mahabharata, trans. J. D. Smith (Penguin Classics) ISBN 978-0140446814. From this text we ask you to read the Introduction and the following pages: 17-20, 28-61, 68-74, 90-102, 121-163, 214-233, 354-366, 375-389, 398-408, 419-431, 471-484, 512-524, 566-575, 583-592, 779-791.
  • Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (Penguin) (ISBN 978-0140436228) or any other modern edition
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch (Penguin) (ISBN 978-0141439549) or any other modern edition
  • Ngugi wa Thiongo, A Grain of Wheat (Penguin) (ISBN 978-0141186993)

Further reading

A detailed bibliography for the module can be found here.

Plan of the Module

Principal texts for seminars and lectures

(Click on the week for the appropriate lecture slides, where availabe)

Term 1

Week 1: Introduction and Homer, Iliad, Bk. 1

Week 2: Homer, Iliad, Bks. 2-13

Week 3: Homer, Iliad, Bks. 14-24

Week 4: Virgil, Aeneid, Bks. 1-4

Week 5: Virgil, Aeneid, Bks. 5-8


Week 7: Virgil, Aeneid, Bks. 9-12

Week 8: Milton, Paradise Lost, Bks. 1-4

Week 9: Milton, Paradise Lost, Bks. 5-8

Week 10: Milton, Paradise Lost, Bks. 9-12

Term 2

Week 11: The Mahabharata

Week 12: The Mahabharata

Week 13: Fielding, Tom Jones, Bk. 1-6 [Bakhtin, "Epic and Novel"; Lukacs, "The Epic and the Novel"]

Week 14: Fielding, Tom Jones, Bk. 7-12

Week 15: Fielding, Tom Jones, Bk. 13-18

Week 17: Eliot, Middlemarch

Week 18: Eliot, Middlemarch

Week 19: Ngugi, A Grain of Wheat

Week 20: Ngugi, A Grain of Wheat

Term 3

Week 21: Revision 1: The Epic

Week 22: Revision 2: The Novel

Week 23: Revision 3: Epic into Novel