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Epic to Novel

Epic into Novel

On this module you will delve into some of the great works of literary history. Tracking the transition from the epics of the ancient world to the novels of modernity, you will study a selection of the most influential and formative works in world literature. Reading across history and cultures, between languages and genres, you will develop your skills in analysing narrative, character, and style, and lay the foundations for your future studies in literature.

Texts you might encounter include two of the cornerstone works of the classical world, Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid, the ancient Indian epic The Mahabharata, Milton’s poem of the battle between good and evil, Paradise Lost, Henry Fielding’s bawdy comedy Tom Jones, or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o’s novel of decolonising Kenya, Petals of Blood.

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Modes of Reading

This module provides an introduction to the key concepts of critical thinking in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. You will immerse yourself in the thought of some of the most influential literary and critical theorists of the last hundred years – Theodor Adorno, Judith Butler, Fredric Jameson, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and so on – and get to apply their ideas to acclaimed novels and stories.

You will explore the ideas of feminist theory, Marxism, postcolonial critique, and eco-criticism. Binding together these diverse issues is a constant focus on the interaction between culture and society and between the past and the present. Readings may include acclaimed novels such as Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956), Ursula LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest (1976), Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddah of Suburbia (1990) and Toni Morrison’s A Mercy (2008).

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Modern World Literatures

This module is an introduction to some of the defining concerns, styles, and historical contexts of modern world literatures from 1789 to the present. You will encounter novels, short stories, poetry, and plays from across the globe, from revolutionary France to Meiji era Japan, from Britain in the throes of industrialization to the decolonizing Caribbean. Tackling key concepts such as Romanticism, modernism, the gothic, and the postcolonial, you will explore how writers in diverse times and places have sought to come to grips with the maelstrom of modernity and the role of social, cultural, and (inter)national formations in shaping literary production.

Your reading might include Mary Shelley’s classic gothic novel Frankenstein (1818), Henrik Ibsen’s startling and still controversial play A Doll’s House (1879), Lu Xun’s disturbing story of China in transition, “Diary of a Madman” (1918), or Clarice Lispector’s hauntingly poetic meditation on life in Rio de Janeiro, The Hour of the Star (1977).

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Medieval to Renaissance English Literature

This course gives you the opportunity to discover some of the most significant earlier works of English literature in their social and historical contexts, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Taking you from the mythical court of King Arthur to the real world of ambition, intrigue, and danger in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the course introduces you to texts in a range of genres (romance, epic, fabliau, etc) and poetic forms. The works studied express some of the period’s highest ideals—‘trawthe’ or integrity, holiness—as well as exploring some of humanity’s darkest impulses: greed, deception, revenge, and aggressive sexual desire.

You will develop your skills in close reading of earlier forms of English as well as tackling some of the critical themes broached by these texts, including the value and power of literature itself.

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Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists of His Time

This module considers Shakespeare as a jobbing early modern playwright who’s also writing for today’s stage. We’re as much interested in his words as in the enactment that transforms his writing into ‘play’, so we do close readings of both Shakespeare’s playtexts and performance texts.

Across our lecture series we look at some twenty plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Middleton. We talk about ‘Shakespeare’s Brain’, ‘Sex in the City’, ‘Ugly Sisters in King Lear’, ‘Beginnings and Endings’, ‘Shakespeare’s Stuff’. Students can elect seminars that study Shakespeare conventionally, in round-table discussions, or that put him on his feet, in workshop conditions, ‘Shakespeare Without Chairs’, to conduct three-dimensional literary criticism.

We celebrate risk-taking, creativity and innovation on this module and invite students to ‘own’ Shakespeare for themselves either in assessment that writes back to Shakespeare in a scholarly essay or that engages with him in a creative project, which might be anything from re-writing the fifth act of Twelfth Night to creating an installation exhibiting the Forest of Arden to painting the portrait of power in Henry IV to choreographing a dance response to the death of Desdemona. At Warwick, ‘Shakespace’ is territory for student exploration and student performance.

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Eighteenth-Century Literature

The eighteenth century has a lot to answer for. It gave us the novel, party politics, consumer culture, and industrialization. In this module you'll explore a range of texts that respond to and intervene in these developments, and you'll be encouraged to think about how this period speaks to our own present.

We'll look at stories narrated by objects, at poetry that grapples with the destruction of rural life, at satire obsessed with the body and its functions, and at novels that search for strategies to write about modern life and the modern individual.

Readings might include Jonathan Swift's bitingly satirical Gulliver's Travels (1726), John Cleland's pornographic send-up of the marriage plot, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748), Oliver Goldsmith's nostalgic lament for a lost way of life, The Deserted Village (1770), and Jane Austen's Emma (1815), a novel about the everyday – and exactly what the "everyday" might mean.

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Introduction to Alternative Lifeworlds Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and the Weird

One of the most popular, diverse, and daringly imaginative of cultural forms, Alternative Lifeworlds Fiction (ALF) explores the boundaries of human possibility. This module charts a path through the various expressions of the genre, from its inception in the nineteenth century to the contemporary moment. We’ll mostly read fiction, but we’ll also watch movies, consider comics and video games, and listen to the music of the future.

We’ll behold visions of Utopia; be placed in Dystopian environments; be confronted with life in Apocalyptic worlds and technologically advanced societies. We’ll journey across interstellar space and time into alternative universes. We’ll confront all manner of aliens and monsters, engage with cyborgs, clones, and superheroes. We’ll navigate cities of the future and inhabit moons and alter-spaces. We’ll discover fantastic scientific developments and consider how the Alternative Lifeworld imaginary offers a means to rethink our preconceptions about race, gender, class, sexuality – and being human in modernity.

Your reading might include H. G. Wells time bending classic The Time Machine (1895), Stanislaw Lem’s philosophical ‘sf horror’ tale of encountering a strange and unfathomable ocean world Solaris (1961), Ursula K. Le Guin’s celebrated narrative of competing planetary utopias The Dispossessed (1974), or Margaret Atwood’s novel of bioshock apocalypse, Oryx and Crake (2003).

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Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature

This module tracks a literary path through the ‘American Century’: its excesses and hangovers, its hopes and fears, and its wrenching transformations. Moving between the streets of New York and the hills of Los Angeles, and beyond, you’ll encounter American writing in all its varieties – literary novels, genre fiction, plays, journalism, short stories, graphic novels, and more.

You’ll watch and listen as well as read: film, music, and art will play a big part in our discussions. The political scene will often shape our approach – the Cold War, the Civil Rights struggle, second wave feminism, and so on – and we’ll also get to grips with the daring linguistic and visual experimentalism of modernism and postmodernism. Surveying the full scope of the United States in an era when it rose to global dominance will mean delving into the innovative, questioning, and intensely engaged writing that recorded it all.

Your reading might include F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic tale of Americans in 1930s Europe, Tender is the Night (1934), Shirley Jackson's chilling ghost story The Haunting of Hill House (1959), Toni Morrison's tragic account of black life in pre-Civil Rights America The Bluest Eye (1970), or Tony Kushner's epic and fantastical play about the 1980s AIDS crisis, Angels in America (1991).

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Devolutionary British Fiction

This module looks at shifting powers in Britain from World War Two to the present. It tracks motifs of Britishness and counter-Britishness across areas including: the post-war consensus and the mythologies of public services; immigration and race; the protestant work ethic; the decline of imperial ‘aura’ and the return of place; mass surveillance; devolution movements in the UK’s peripheries; Thatcherism and neoliberalism; the politics of recreational drugs; hauntology, memory, nostalgia, and anachronism; gender and nation; social class; and the two big referendums of the 2010s so far (first Scottish independence referendum 2014, EU referendum 2016). No prior qualifications in Politics or History are needed.

Texts are in the form of novels, stories, films, and occasionally music, and usually include George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962), David Peace’s GB84 (2004), Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (1993), J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island (1974), Shane Meadows’s This is England (2007), Laura Oldfield Ford’s Savage Messiah (2011), and one text selected by students.

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Crime Fiction, Nation and Empire: Britain, 1850-1947

Stories about crime and punishment, the legal and the illegal, are all around us. They make up some of the fundamental ways in which we understand ourselves as individuals (as 'law-abiding citizens' for instance), societies, and nations (think how Britain is said to be a 'law-abiding' nation). But this has not always been the case. In this module, we investigate how this association between crime, individuals, and nations formed in Britain in the nineteenth century for very specific reasons. We look at how literature played a crucial role in this formation. We think about the relationship between literature, law, and wider historical and cultural forces that came together to produce ideas that remain central to our sense of who we are today.

We will read novels such as Bleak House by Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. We will investigate G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown as well as the 'Golden Age' novels of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. From these, we will make deductions that will help us understand the power of the narratives about criminals and 'illegals' we see every day.

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States of Damage: 21st century U.S. Writing and Culture

The spectacular terror of September 11, 2001 seemed to announce a new world disorder, yet since the financial crash of 2008 and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 the source of much of the 'new' global unrest can also be traced to well-established patterns within western societies. This module surveys recent cultural dispatches from the United States and grapples with their attempts to make sense of a world in flux — a world where political and environmental chaos appears to mimic the routinized chaos of global capitalism. The texts and cultural documents you’ll be examining range across fiction and non-fiction, through the new forms and genres of the contemporary world, and take on the character of national self-diagnoses in these transformative and bewildering times.

The module syllabi changes radically each year in an effort to keep up with the changing political and cultural scene, but you may find you are reading such writers as Claudia Rankine, Ta-Nehisi Coates, George Saunders, or Michelle Alexander, watching recent TV series from HBO, Netflix, or Amazon, or responding in class to news, journalism, and social media content that is happening right at that moment.