MA Nineteenth-Century Literature

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  • Objectives
    This MA course (1 year full-time, 2 years part-time) seeks to explore the modernity of the Victorians, tracing the emergence of twentieth- and twenty-first century sensibilities through the literature and culture of the nineteenth century. Above all it seeks to emphasise the relevance of Victorian literature and culture to understanding our own troubled and complex contemporary identities.
  • Academic title
    MA Nineteenth-Century Literature
  • Course description
    Students on the full-time programme will take the two compulsory taught modules in the autumn term:

    Materiality and Textuality will introduce you to the methods of advanced study and research; this will include issues such as manuscripts and archives, palaeography, bibliography, databases, editorial practice, and how to choose and define a dissertation topic. The University of Reading is home to world-renowned collections – most notably the Beckett Archive – and this module will involve working with rare and valuable cultural documents of various kinds. You will have the opportunity to create your assessment for this module in line with your particular interests: this might involve, for instance, tracing the circulation and print history of an early modern text, or editing a Virginia Woolf letter.

    Modern English Studies – nineteenth-centurty will focus on some of the key terms, ideas, and events that have been used to conceptualise English Studies in recent times. The module begins with thinking about the organisation of study into periods: what are the implications of organising study around such terms as "Renaissance," "Victorian," or "Modern"? What happens if we try to think around or against such categories, and how do these categories sustain or otherwise interact with ideas of class, sexuality, nation, race, or form?  For the second part of the module, students will look specifically at concepts and events that have been used to organise nineteenth-century English study.Topics on this part of the module will include the French Revolution, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and the idea of a "Darwinian Revolution."

    In the spring term, you take two options:

    Nation and Empire

    This module will explore the formation of national and imperial identities in the Victorian period through the medium of English literature. Informed both by Victorian economics and ethnography and by current post-colonial theory, it will consider metropolitan responses to imperialism alongside assertions and explorations of national identity in England, Scotland and Ireland. Additional topics may include constructions of the savage, travel writing, imperialist and anti-imperialist poetry, and reactions to imperialism as part of the globalisation of English Literature.

    Science, Sex and Crime

    This module will explore relationships between the developing conceptions of sexuality and criminality during the nineteenth century, especially as they were reconsidered in the light of scientific discovery and experimental method as these evolved over the period. The new models of gender and sexuality that emerged in and went into the shaping of twentieth- and twenty-first-century ideas of identity will be explored, especially as they are figured in the criminalization of sexual activities, and the resort to crime and detection of crime as means for intervention in social relations and their organization. Within the scope of the module we may explore such issues as the rise of the detective and detective fiction, the intertwining of sexuality and crime in sensation novels, popular theatre, lyric, epic and dramatic-monologue poetry, the impact of Darwin and social Darwinism on plotting and characterization, the cultural locations of madness, and the rise of psychoanalysis in the representation of selfhood. From child-adoration to identity theft, the dandy to the new woman, Lombroso's criminal types to the killing of Jude's children, from Beatrice Cenci's murder of her incestuous father to 'The Ballad of Reading Goal', this module aims to come to terms with issues that obsessed the writers of the nineteenth century and that have by no means lost their relevance for us.

    The final element of the MA is the Dissertation module. At the start of the summer term, and in consultation with the programme director, you will be assigned a dissertation supervisor. Your supervisor will guide you in researching and framing your dissertation project.

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