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EN263 Devolutionary British Fiction


Convenor: Professor Michael Gardiner

Office Hours: Tue 1600-1700, Wed 1100-1200


Seminars: Tuesday 10:00 - 11:30, Tuesday 11:30 - 1:00, Tuesday 2:30 - 4:00

Assessment is by two 4000 word essays, due 12.00 on Weds of Week One of Terms 2 and Term 3.

This module looks at issues of political power, representation and democracy, and decline in Britain, in particular as voiced by its constituent nations (including England), since around World War Two. It does not present a group of texts that are 'devolutionary', but rather suggests how the sovereignty issues of the era of devolution point to new ways of reading. The module might be thought of as a set of questions about the mythologies of Britishness, and expressions of the 'post-British'. It explores how post-1940 texts can be read in terms of themes including the form of the British state, questions of nationality, and constitutional crises.
There are no specific requirements for students beginning this module. By the end, and as a result of personal reading, there should be some familiarity with the broad historical parameters, particularly the two sets of national devolution referendums (1979, 1997), the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, and ongoing issues of constitutional change and pressure for Scottish self-determination.
We are likely to also consider: ‘democratic deficit’ - that is, the way that power, particularly after 1979, has seemed ‘far away’ from the people, and responses to democratic deficit throughout the UK; consensus, its links to the welfare state and to neoliberalism, and attacks on and defences of ‘British values’ - empire and neo-imperialism; the cultural forms of British empire; migration and ‘postcolonial melancholia’; questions of place, experience, physicality, violence, addiction, and ‘embodiedness’; English Literature’s conception of a canon, how this came about and the pressures on it in an era of devolution and 'post-Britishness'; language and dialect, and the politics of Standard and non-Standard English.

Each week there will be one set text, which is compulsory, and familiarity with which, and some thought about which, is a condition of attendance. There will also be a couple of recommended texts, which are not compulsory but which it is in your own interest to look at.
Please note that the library isn't responsible for making set texts available; you are asked to buy all set texts. You should do this as far in advance as possible, and in week one we will talk about availability of set and recommended texts, and confirm the text list.

There is also a concise reading list ('Extra Reading'). This is not exhaustive, and we are happy to make further recommendations and to add new texts to the list if they are useful. This will be added to periodically.

There is no requirement to have any specific A-Levels, for example in History or Politics (or English), and there is no need for any specific knowledge in this fields. All that is needed is a willingness to read around the subject. You are expected to investigate the historical backgrounds of the periods in which we read, and after years of thought we've decided not to recommend specific history books (or documentaries): whatever you like for the period you're interested in - as long as you read critically. Historical embedding is necessary for all modules - this one is not special - but if you are struggling with contexts you can consider this a 'post-1940 fiction' module.

Please note that the tutors on this module are not offering personal political opinions, but rather are trying to prompt open debate.

There iare no seminars in Term Three, but there are office hours. You are invited to the office hours of either your tutor or the convenor to talk about any issues surrounding the module.


In 2018-19, assessment is by two 4000 word essays. We will be available during office hours to discuss any aspects of the module or any themes or interests arising from it, but for the sake of fairness we try to limit the extent to which tutors can help individual students construct essays. You can see the essays as an ongoing project you carry with you throughout the year, and make notes with the essays in mind as soon as you can. Sample titles will be posted for the first essay, but not the second, and it is expected that students will choose their own titles, which must be okayed by 1200 Friday Week Ten of the preceding term.

2018-19 Term Three Essay (ie second essay): no samples are being suggested for this, but like Term One, you need to get your essay title okayed by 1200 on Friday Week 10 - 15 March.

In 2019-20 there will be a slightly different assessment for second and third (and above) year students: second year essays will be 2x4000w, third and above will be 2x5000w.

SYLLABUS 2018-19

1. Introduction, no preparation required

1. Consensus and Thatcherism

2. SET: George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and ‘England, Your England’ (1941)
RECOMMENDED: Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946), ‘Notes on Nationalism’ (1945), and as many from Penguin Essays as possible

3. SET: Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962)
RECOMMENDED: dir. Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange (1971)
RECOMMENDED: Anthony Burgess, 1985 (1978)

4. SET: Muriel Spark, The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)
RECOMMENDED: Alan Sillitoe, ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ (story) (1959)
RECOMMENDED: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (film) (1962)
RECOMMENDED: Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (1886)

5. SET: Chris Mullin, A Very British Coup (1982)
RECOMMENDED: Raymond Williams, The Volunteers (1978)
RECOMMENDED: Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain (1977)

7. SET: David Peace, GB84 (2004)
RECOMMENDED: Seumas Milne, The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners (1994)
RECOMMENDED: dir. and wr. Bernard Jackson and Tony Wardle, The Battle for Orgreave (1986) (on youtube)
RECOMMENDED: Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, and Peacekeeping (1971)

2. The Second Scottish Literary Renaissance

8. SET: Alasdair Gray, Lanark (1981)
RECOMMENDED: R.D. Laing, The Divided Self (1961)
RECOMMENDED: Cairns Craig, The Modern Scottish Novel (1999)

9. SET: James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late (1994)
RECOMMENDED: James Kelman, And the Judges Said... (2002)
RECOMMENDED: essays in ed. Scott Hames, The Edinburgh Companion to James Kelman (2010)

10. SET: Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting (1993)
RECOMMENDED: essays from ed. Berthold Schoene, The Edinburgh Companion to Irvine Welsh (2010)
RECOMMENDED: dir. Danny Boyle, Trainpotting (1996)

11. SET: Janice Galloway, The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989)
RECOMMENDED: David Cooper, The Grammar of Living
RECOMMENDED: Robert Boyers and Robert Orrill, Laing and Anti-Psychiatry

3. Imperial Melancholia

12. SET: Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956)
RECOMMENDED: Universities and Left Review first three numbers (1957-60)
RECOMMENDED: Stuart Hall, Familiar Strange: A Life Between Two Islands

13. SET: J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island (1974)
RECOMMENDED: Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)
RECOMMENDED: Muriel Spark, Robinson (1958)

14. SET: dir. Shane Meadows, This is England (2007)
RECOMMENDED: Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack (1987)
RECOMMENDED: wr. and dir. Stuart Hall, Racism on TV in Great Britain (1979)

4. Nostalgia, Hauntology, and Lost Futures

15. Jez Butterworth, Jersusalem (2009)
RECOMMENDED: Ian Baucom, Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Empire (1999)
RECOMMENDED: essays from eds. Claire Westall and Michael Gardiner, Literature of an Independent England (2013)

17. SET: Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life (2014)
RECOMMENDED: Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx 
RECOMMENDED: The Advisory Circle, Mind How You Go (audio)
RECOMMENDED: Richard Littler, Discovering Scarfolk (2014)

18. SET: Laura Oldfield Ford, Savage Messiah (2011)
RECOMMENDED: Iain Sinclair, London Orbital (2000)
RECOMMENDED: essays from ed. Robert Eaglestone, Brexit and Literature (2018)

19. SET: dir. Robin Hardy, The Wicker Man (1973)
RECOMMENDED: Ben Myers, The Gallows Pole (2017)
RECOMMENDED: Adam Scovell, Folk Horror (2017)
(set text was decided by vote)

20. SET: dir. Steve McQueen, Hunger (2008)
(decided by suggestion)

Advice on Writing Essays