Dr. David Robinson
ENG 5404 / 7404
"Modern British Fiction"
(or, "Life and Letters in the Incredible Shrinking Nation")

Required Texts:

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
Lawrence, "The Horse Dealer's Daughter" (handout)
James Joyce, Dubliners; excerpts from Ulysses and Finnegans Wake (handouts)
Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts
Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Margaret Drabble, The Radiant Way
Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry
James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late
Ben Okri, The Stars of the New Curfew

Secondary Book List:

Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Soldier
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London or Burmese Days
Graham Greene, any novel
Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman
Graham Swift, Waterland


Howard's End
My Beautiful Laundrette

Nature of the Course:

This course approximately covers 1900 to the present: far too long and too diverse a period to be dealt with in ten weeks, but there it is. To limit the scope of our reading, I plan to concentrate on the theme of British "decline," allowing for necessary asides about he history of style and shifts in subject matter.

The United Kingdom reached its peak of power and influence during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), when it ruled over an empire ("on which the sun never set") that included Ireland, the Indian Subcontinent, Australia, Canada, colonies in North, Central, and South Africa, and many smaller holdings. As chief city of the first country to pass through the industrial revolution, London was the world capital of business and finance. The British navy and merchant marine played their respective roles in governing and binding the farthest corners of the world, a dark-skinned world ruled over by white Englishmen.

In our own time, nearly a century later, the United Kingdom has shrunk politically and economically to secondary or even tertiary importance in the world, eclipsed not just by the American and Russian superpowers, but by Germany and Japan as well. India, the enormous African possessions, Australia, Canada, most of Ireland, etc., have all long since achieved independence, while Britain's military significance eroded steadily through two devastating world wars and the age of nuclear terror and East/West confrontation (Britain's quaint insistence on possessing nuclear weapons notwithstanding). And today, the former colonials are moving to the former center of empire, creating ethnic tensions in a relatively homogeneous England and transforming indigenous English culture into an amalgam of the English-speaking world. Even the "united" in United Kingdom is coming under profound scrutiny as the ancient Scottish and Welsh "minorities" stir with renewed political awareness.

All of this is reflected in the literature. We will see how, early in the century, the center of the world's greatest empire became a literary center of world importance. With the loss of its geopolitical dominance, and the decline of its domestic economy, British attention turns to the problem of reconciling its shabby, mid-century present with its glorious past. And as the century winds up, English society (and hence literature) sees itself being transformed by the return of the colonial oppressed. A world literature shrinking to a respectable provincial literature, something like Holland's? Or a provincial literature opening to the world? You be the judge.

Course Requirements:

All students will be required to read the required texts (subject to pop quizzing). Regular participation in the class discussions is strongly encouraged and will influence your grade positively in borderline situations. There will be two 1-hour exams (non-cumulative) covering the assigned reading. Undergraduate students will read an additional book from the secondary list and present a maximum 15 minute discussion of it in class. Graduate students will do two of these. (In all cases, I will supervise the selection and assignment of these books, suggesting ones other than those listed if necessary. Students will be responsible for ordering the books through Books Plus or obtaining them from the library). Undergraduate students will write a researched term paper on a topic of their choice, length 7-10 pages. Graduate students will write a similar paper, length 12-15 pages.

The final grade will be calculated as follows:
Undergraduates Graduates
Exam #1 25% Exam #1 20%
Exam #2 25% Exam #2 20%
Research Paper 40% Research Paper 40%
Class Presentation 10% Class Pres. #1 10%
Total 100% Class Pres. #2 10%
Total 100%