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EN258 The Practice of Life Writing

This module is an option on all Pathways.

Revised for 2015-16


Seminar: Wednesdays 10.30am - 12.00pm

This module uses the study of primary texts and the practice of life writing to explore some of the big questions: is there life beyond the text? Does writing make a self, or does a self make writing? Where is the border between ‘life writing’ and ‘fiction’? We live now with ideas about writers’ lives inherited from Romanticism, and so this module begins with the development of Romantic life writing. We look at the genesis of the image of the writer as a solitary being inspired by natural beauty, and consider the politics of this image: who is excluded from this idea of the writers’ life? How do writers respond to exclusion, both in the Romantic era and now?

Set texts include parts of The Prelude, Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journals and Keats’ Letters. We will also glance back towards the tradition of Non-conformist spiritual autobiography. There will be a workshop on archive use at the Modern Records Centre, after which you will work in small groups to make a presentation based on archival research.

The first term’s work will sometimes feel like a traditional English Literature module with some surprising perspectives and writing exercises, but after Christmas, we move into our own era and begin to focus more on your own practice of life writing. We will read a range of contemporary life writing, considering mortality and medical memoir, travel writing, and utopian idealism. Assessment is by one essay on the set texts and one portfolio of life writing (memoir, biography, nature/ travel writing or any other sub-genre), each of 5,000 words. Students wishing to combine literary essays with life writing in some form are welcome to do so in consultation with the tutor.

Set texts:

Term 1

John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (ideally Penguin with original spelling and punctuation)

Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative (if you can get the Broadview edition, please do)

William Wordsworth, The Two-Book Prelude (OUP or Norton editions)

Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journals

Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters from Norway, Sweden and Denmark (Broadview if you’re interested in writing about it, otherwise OUP or Penguin will do)

John Keats, Selected Letters

Term 2

Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost

Gabriel Weston, Direct Red

Karl Ove Knausgaard, A Man in Love

Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau

Tobias Jones, Utopian Dreams

Rachel Corrie, Let Me Stand Alone

Essay deadlines are posted on the essay deadline page found here.