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(N.B. This syllabus refers to an earlier version of the course. Please see the draft syllabus available on the main page.)



While you are reading, you may find it helpful to focus on the following themes and issues. Please note that not all of these topics are equally significant in each text, and of course you should feel free to explore and pursue any other topics which interest you. Try to make connections and comparisons as you go along – the same themes recur, but the treatment varies from text to text.


How is the story told? Who tells it? How does this affect the impact of the narrative? Are there any gaps, silences, unanswered questions? Are there moments in the novel when you are invited to question your initial interpretation or judgements?


What is the relationship between: present and past; tradition and modernity?

If the novel is set in an earlier historical period, what kind of story is the novel telling us about that past? About the historical process?

Gender and Sexuality:

What are the dominant understandings of male and female roles, masculine and feminine identities and propensities? Are these understandings challenged or troubled in any way during the course of the novel? If so, to what effect?


What questions about power and/or authority are raised by the novel? What power relationships and power struggles are represented or implied? How is the relationship between different classes or hierarchies explored? What solutions does the novel offer to conflicts of interest or social and economic inequalities? How convincing are these solutions?


What part does religious faith (or doubt) and religious practice play in the narrative? Where do you think the sympathies of the novel lie?


How does ‘culture’ feature in the narrative? Who has access to knowledge and education? Who doesn’t? Does the novel suggest a judgement about the value of culture and its contribution to the social order and the individual sensibility?


Topography: how is the landscape (country or city) described? How does it relate to the themes of the novel? What kind of movement takes place during the course of the narrative? Notice boundaries: walls, gates, windows, doors, etc. What do they contribute to the narrative? If the novel centres on a ‘big house’, what is the significance of the house and its objects? Notice the relationship between exterior and interior: are these spaces gendered? How do bodies inhabit spaces?

Nation and Empire:

How does the world beyond England’s boundaries feature in the narrative? How is the relationship between ‘English’ and ‘foreign’ conceptualised and explored? What values/qualities/possibilities are implicit or explicit here? How are differences within England (eg. North and South) represented in the text? Consider the significance of clothes, gesture, food, language etc. as indicators of ‘difference’.