British/Postcolonial Literature

modern british novel: collapsing empires and ecologies


This class follows the development of the British novel from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 21st century. We will track this development by situating the novel’s various aesthetic changes and innovations within two contextual frames: 1) the collapse of British imperial power and 2) the rising awareness of human influence on environment and climate at a global scale.

colonial and postcolonial encounters


This class focuses on literature from Africa, exploring the relationship between colonial power, postcolonial subjectivity, and narrative form. We will approach this literature in reverse chronological order, beginning with a selection of contemporary short stories, working our way through post-independence novels from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya, and Sudan and immigrant literature from England, and concluding the semester with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

modern & contemporary british & irish poetry


This class tracks the development of British and Irish poetry from the start of the twentieth century to the present. We will consider this poetry in the light of literary and artistic developments of the period (e.g., Imagism, Modernism, The Movement, British Poetry Revival, Postmodernism, etc.). We’ll also consider these poetic works in their various historical, political, and cultural contexts—whether considering a declining British Empire; the developing social, economic, and political trends of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland; or the complicated interrelationships between the nations that have made up the archipelago.

the literature of four nations


In this class we will consider literary and artistic developments of the period to understand ways that literature has negotiated the nuanced relationship between different and occasionally conflicting national identities and sovereignties—whether in light of a declining British Empire; the developing social, economic, and political trends of the United Kingdom; the complicated interrelationships between the nations that have made up this kingdom; or the pressures from international and globalizing forces. We’ll explore a range of texts from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (or Northern Ireland after 1921). Our texts will include short stories (e.g., James Joyce’s Dubliners), novels (e.g., Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things), poetry (e.g., Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island”), and drama (e.g., Samuel Beckett’s Endgame). We’ll consider the various approaches that authors from Britain and Ireland have taken to embrace, reject, or complicate the concept of “nation” and the formation of a “national” literature. These questions will be central to the class: How does literature influence the complex and developing questions that surround national and international politics of Britain and Ireland throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? And how do these national politics (whether British, Irish, English, or others) influence literary production?

modern and contemporary scottish narrative


This course explores Scottish literature from the turn of the 20th century to the present. We’ll move beyond the hills and mists of Braveheart and Brigadoon to consider ways that narratives from this period build upon and respond to complex economic, political, and cultural trends in Scotland. Our investigation will deal with the ways that a faltering British empire, shifting economies, and rising national movements produce a literature that is oftentimes distant from and oppositional to the larger concerns of English or British literature. In particular, we will explore the various approaches that Scottish authors have taken to embrace, reject, or complicate the formation of a Scottish national literature. These questions will be central to the class: How do literary narratives influence the complex questions surrounding national identity in Scotland? Moreover, how does Scottish national identity influence narrative form?

We’ll tackle these questions by looking at narratives ranging from short stories (e.g., JM Barrie’s highland narratives) to poetic narratives (e.g., Edwin Morgan’s Sonnets from Scotland) to novels (e.g., Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting) to films (e.g., Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Trainspotting, Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher). Through these diverse texts, issues of genre will also arise, and we’ll look at the influence of science fiction and the gothic on these questions that surround Scottish literature.

country space / city space


This class maps the shift from modernism to late modernism to postmodernism within the twentieth century to better understand both formal and thematic concerns running through the period. To help reach this goal, we will read with an attention to questions of place and space. In particular, we will focus on the places and spaces of the country estate. Long a popular literary setting, the British country estate—and the culture that revolves around its maintenance—continues in the twentieth century as a popular literary setting, despite (or perhaps because of) rapid urbanization. Some questions that we’ll tackle throughout the semester include: Why, in a century of rapid urbanization, does the country estate and the countryside continue to hold such power? How do representations of the countryside, the country estate, and life in rural Britain shine a light on historical, political, cultural, and aesthetic shifts throughout the twentieth century? How do representations of the city and city living respond to or build from a relationship with the rural? Can we recognize the influence of the estate even in novels not explicitly set within its spaces—in, for instance, the urban noir genre? Most importantly, how does literature’s relationship with the country estate change as we move from modernism to late modernism to postmodernism?