Modern British Literature

Modern British Literature
One semester
Open to 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty 1-3 1.

1. Rationale
Modern British Literature begins at approximately 1800 and runs through the present day. However, because this is a semester-long course, it is difficult to capture every literary period in its entirety. Over the semester, students will read novels and plays (a fine British tradition), and may also study a range of British poets. Students may or may not be reading the texts chronologically; and the teacher may choose to focus on thematic issues rather than (or in addition to) placing the works in their historical contexts.

2. Topics and Themes Emphasized

• Genre development: evolution of forms in plays, poems and novels.

• Cultural context: how do themes, characters and images reflect the questions and assumptions of an era?

• Comparative studies: how do these works compare to our contemporary vision of the world?

3. Methods and Sample Assignments

Students are asked to read carefully, question and analyze selections for meaning, form, style, language and tone. Some historical background will be presented in discussion or lecture format, and may be the subject of individual outside reading. Class discussion about the literature will be the primary method of instruction. Writing to interpret, explain, react or imitate the readings will be the primary method of assessment. Films, videos, speakers, student presentations, and individual reading and research projects will also be used. Students may be asked to compare or contrast writers’ works, to trace the development of an idea, theme or form. They may also be asked to relate a work to a historical period, a literary philosophy, or an artistic movement, which can include the visual arts, architecture, dramatic arts, and music. Students will be expected to note relationships among the readings and eras studied and to be able to recognize the both the continuity and progression/transformation of the literature through the time periods.

4. Expectations for Students Reading: assignments will be lengthy. Some of the earlier pieces may be more difficult because of structural differences in the language or unfamiliar vocabulary. Some critical and historical readings will be assigned.

Writing: there will be frequent critical and analytical compositions, at least one major paper for each literary work. Opportunities for creative writing and/or creative projects are provide for most units and they may take the form of imitating an author’s work, a style, or a form. Students may be given the opportunity to design their own writing assignments.

Listening/Speaking: class discussion, oral presentations, speakers, films and lectures all provide opportunities for students to speak, listen and collaborate. They are expected to participate on a daily basis.

5. Reading List and Other Materials

Late 18th Century
The works of Pope
Gulliver’s Travels, Swift
the poetry of William Blake

19th Century
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Percy Shelley,
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
The Gothic tradition
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Great Expectations, Dickens
Hard Times, Dickens
Silas Marner, Eliot
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson
Tennyson, Arnold, Kipling, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll

20th Century
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf
A Room with a View, Forster
A Passage to India, Forster
1984, Orwell
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Spark
Arcadia, Stoppard
The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro

Sample Assignments:
#1 Compare a contemporary film adaptation/version of the Dracula story with it’s “source” text, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. What elements of the vampire tale does your work have in common with the “original” Dracula? What changes were made, and how do they relate to and/or what do they reveal about the culture that produced them?

#2 Compare “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with Frankenstein. What common themes do they share?

#3 Iterations/Repetitions/Re-creations in Arcadia. After Thomasina laments the burning of the library at Alexandria, Septimus observes that as we march through time “there is nothing outside the march, so that nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again” (42). How is this idea reflected in the play? You can explore the structure of the play, the plot, compare the two time periods, focus on a particular set of characters, a particular concept (physics, maths), etc. You may choose to write a standard 3+ page analytical essay.


You can create a visual and/or an artistic rendering of your topic. You could do a painting, recreate one of the books/portfolios that appear in the play, make a video, or explore and explain a particular scientific concept and compare it to the text. Along with your piece, you will also write a 1.5 page composition explaining why your chosen concept is important in terms of your understanding of the play’s themes.

rev. 12/17

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