Survey of British Literature: Romanticism to the Present

Section 01
Joshua Brorby
Course Description

How do we think about British literature? Do we imagine it as a slow progression of literary movements from generation to generation, with clearly defined periods called Romantic, Victorian, modernist, and postmodern? Do we consider it to have a canon? Do we think that it represents a story of political change and activist dissension, or does literature serve to suppress such interests? And why are we as readers compelled to turn to literature? This course provides students with the tools and texts to formulate answers to these questions. Beginning with the anxious revolutionary decade at the end of the eighteenth century, this course introduces students to the forces that have shaped British literature and to the novels, poems, and more that have in turn reshaped history. We will ask how artists conceptualize and popularize their work, and how literary critics have both followed and interrogated the myths of artistic creation. And we will consider how texts represent, establish, and question assumptions about race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. Students will read fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction from Britain, Ireland, and the Commonwealth, including African and Caribbean literatures in English. Authors may include William Wordsworth, Phillis Wheatley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Frederick Douglass, Oscar Wilde, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Mulk Raj Anand, Claude McKay, Derek Walcott, Samuel Beckett, Muriel Spark, and Zadie Smith.