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English Literature: Modern and Contemporary Fictions (MA)

Course Description

This course gives you the chance to study English literature in a modern university environment, while taking advantage of the wealth of resources offered by London's rich cultural life. You will examine literary texts in the wider context of cultural production and relate them to the social, historical and political circumstances from which they emerge.

The course team consists of academic specialists who make use of the many nearby museums, galleries and libraries in their teaching. The course will be of particular interest to those wishing to prepare for further study at MPhil or PhD level, and those teaching English who want to gain a further qualification and investigate recent and current developments in the field.

Course content

The course is organised around the themes of reading, re-reading and interpretation. You will study a range of periods and issues in literature, to place literary texts in cultural contexts and to understand them within the critical history of literature.

The core modules, Subjects: Modern and Contemporary Fictions and Institutions and Histories: Modern and Contemporary Fictions, are comprised of an examination of classic and contemporary critical texts on literature in relation to ideas in larger contexts, such as history, the visual image, gender, psychoanalysis and post-colonialism. The Dissertation of 10-12,000 words, which can be written on an appropriate topic of your choice, and Research Methods are also core modules.

Core modules

- Dissertation
This extended piece of research work (10,000-12,000 words) is an opportunity for you to pursue a topic of individual interest, and is conducted through individual study and directed supervision. The module also includes preparation of a detailed research proposal.

- Institutions and Histories
The module examines a range of topics at the heart of writing in the 20th and 21st centuries and of literary studies itself. You will examine a range of topics, including: genre and history; literature's contemporary globalisation; the historical development of English Literature as a discipline; the history an theorisation of the notion 'literature' itself; and the material cultures of literary production and consumption.

- Research Methods: Knowledge, Cultural Memory, Archives and Research
This introduction to research methods engages with the critical implications of knowledge in the humanities, through interdisciplinary approaches to literature, visual, material, and spatial cultures, as they are understood, interpreted, and mobilised. Highlighting questions raised by discourse on epistemology, memory, archives, and research itself, the module concentrates on the complex links between: organic and technical forms of memory; public and private cultural institutions of knowledge, memory and identity; and information gathering, retrieval, and analysis.

- Modern and Contemporary Fictions
This module investigates the basis of the literary and of literary studies via the idea of the subject. As part of this , you will explore different critical approaches, such as feminism and post-colonialism, as well as looking at key issues in literary studies such as the roles of the author and the reader. An independent module, it is also designed to give you the opportunity for preparatory discussion of topics in optional modules.

Option modules

This module examines some of the many texts of the 20th century through to the present day, written about or set in London. Although the main focus is on literary texts, you will also look at the visual culture of London, and there is a strong emphasis on both historical and geographical context and on the spaces of London. The module includes special field trips ? such as a study trip to the Globe Theatre ? and looks at work by, for example, J.G. Ballard, Sam Selvon, Sarah Waters and Virginia Woolf.

This module examines the idea of British literary culture since the 1990s. Beginning with Carlyle, the notion of literature as an 'industry' has been resisted by a strong tradition of cultural criticism in Britain. This module discusses what happened to this tradition, whether it still exists, and what may have replaced it. By focusing particularly on the relationships between writing and film, and writing and the visual arts, the module investigates the state and status of literary writing during this period. Authors studied include A. S. Byatt, Sarah Kane, Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters and Irvine Welsh.

Through this module you will explore ways in which texts can be contextualised and discussed in terms of the concepts and practices of nationalism, and of attempts to understand the nation as a discursive practice. You will address a variety of texts and relate these to theoretical concepts such as nationalism, decolonisation, colonialism and post-colonialism. You will consider how such concepts intersect with issues concerning gender, race and social class. Authors studied include Howard Brenton, David Hare, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Michael Ondaatje; you will also consider a range of influential theorists, including Benedict Anderson, Homi Bhabha, Michel Foucault and Edward Said.

You will focus on the literature, art and intellectual culture of the first half of the 20th century, and on the heterogenous interpretations of the term modernism itself. The module covers a range of different forms, styles and practices included under the heading of modernism, and seeks to situate modernist literature within an international context. You will also look at the relationship of literature to other art forms, and discuss the central issues within ongoing debates surrounding modernism, including the politics of form, the concept of an avant-garde, myth, tradition, urban experience, and ideas concerning modern space and time.

Focusing on the period from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 21st century, you will examine a range of cultural, literary, artistic and theoretical perspectives on sexuality, in order to investigate the complex relationship between sexuality and narrative. Assessing and comparing a diverse range of theoretical writings on sexuality, the module considers the history and development of these distinct but related narratives and discourses. Key authors, artists and theorists studied include Georges Bataille, Judith Butler, Jeffrey Eugenides, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Michael Haneke, Michel Houellebecq, Adrienne Rich and Oscar Wilde.

This module explores the way in which literary/critical theory can be implemented and taught in the post-16 curriculum. Throughout the module the emphasis is on encouraging you to develop your abilities as a reflective, critical practitioner through the 'action research' model. You must have recent experience of teaching English Literature in post-16 education (eg A Level, Access, International Baccalaureate).

Using a range of theoretical, historical, literary, cinematic, visual and other cultural texts, you will explore the idea of urban culture as it has developed since the mid-19th century. The module considers a variety of different representations of the city, and the ways in which they understand the specificity of urban experience itself. You will also explore the changing global forms and interrelations of 'western' and 'non-western' urban forms. Key authors, artists and theorists studied include Walter Benjamin, Rem Koolhaas, Fritz Lang, Henri Lefebvre, Georg Simmel, Iain Sinclair, the Surrealists and Dziga Vertov.

You will examine the ways in which both the world and 'other worlds' were formed through representation during the latter part of the 19th century. With particular emphasis on the idea of 'exploration', the module focuses on themes such as archaeology and the ruin, mapping the empire and the city, the afterlife, the life of the mind, the natural world, and the scientific world-view. You will consider key concepts in 19th-century culture, such as degeneration and criminality, as well as less investigated aspects of the Victorian imagination. Writers studied include William Booth, Darwin, George Eliot, Edmund Gosse, Richard Jeffries, Max Nordau, H. Rider Haggard, and James Thomson.

Associated careers

The course is particularly relevant to those employed in a range of professions, including English teachers wishing to update their professional skills, and professional researchers. The part-time course would appeal to those interested in studying English literature for career development and general interest.


At Westminster, we have always believed that your University experience should be designed to enhance your professional life. Today’s organisations need graduates with both good degrees and employability skills, and we are committed to enhancing your graduate employability by ensuring that career development skills are embedded in all courses.

Opportunities for part-time work, placements and work-related learning activities are widely available, and can provide you with extra cash and help you to demonstrate that you have the skills employers are looking for. In London there is a plentiful supply of part-time work – most students at the University of Westminster work part time (or full time during vacations) to help support their studies.

We continue to widen and strengthen our links with employers, involving them in curriculum design and encouraging their participation in other aspects of career education and guidance. Staff take into account the latest data on labour market trends and employers’ requirements to continually improve the service delivered to students.

Visit the English Literature: Modern and Contemporary Fictions (MA) page on the University of Westminster website for more details!

Entry Requirements

You are required to have a good Honours degree (2:1 or above, or equivalent) in a relevant subject. If your first language is not English you will need an IELTS score of 7.0 or equivalent. You will need to submit a 1,500 word critical essay on a literary text of your choice as part of your application.

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