This course familiarizes students with the cultural and literary changes taking hold in the United Kingdom in the first half of the twentieth century. It introduces students to some of the most challenging — and rewarding — novels of the period, providing them with the means to identify both the century’s inheritance from its predecessor aesthetic movements, and the legacy it has left for its successors. Students will gain fluency in multiple aspects of narrative experiment characteristic of modernist novels, including stream of consciousness, non-linear narration, narrative gaps, unreliable narrators, delayed decoding, and open-ended narratives. They will learn to identify these techniques, to situate them in relation to the prevailing realist methods of both the previous and following artistic mainstreams, to relate them to other experiments in the non-literary arts, and to read them for their engagements with wider socio-historical contexts. Guided exposure to basic digital humanities methods for exploring the expansive contexts for the course will give students basic familiarity with some of these methods, and allow them to contribute directly to the growing resources in the field.

Above all, as this is a graduate course, students will take control of their own learning, directing the seminar’s progress by introducing their own areas of interest and expertise. I expect students to emerge at the end as competent beginners in the field of modernism, able not only to speak knowledgably about its main elements, but also to orient it in relation to a variety of current critical and theoretical concerns.

Students will learn how to

  • write convincing arguments in stylish prose
  • identify patterns of political engagement in ostensibly non-political texts
  • read style and form as signifying patterns with real socio-political effects
  • understand how cultural products engage with and help shape cultural contexts
  • situate themselves in relation to existing scholarship and criticism, identifying gaps in the field and indicating how they might intervene in those gaps