Modernism: 1890-1950

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
03 May 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA QQ23 English Language and Literature,
BA QQ24 English Language and Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA QQ32 English Language and Literature (Including Year Abroad),
BA QQ35 English Language and Literature (Including Placement Year),
BA QRF9 Literature and Modern Languages,
BA Q2R9 Literature with Modern Languages

Module description

This module offers a varied, wide-ranging introduction to the literature of the modernist period, beginning in the late nineteenth century and extending through to the early 1950s. Modernist literature is defined by its emphasis on innovation and experimentation in both form and content.

Modernist authors wrote from out of a widespread sense that the world they inhabited was undergoing profound and unprecedented change, and that literature would need to adapt to the unique circumstances of the early twentieth century if it was to continue to speak to modern readers. One way in which they did this was to write on subjects which had been neglected or ignored by previous generations of writers, or which had been considered unsuitable for treatment in high culture.

Another modernist strategy was to create entirely new literary styles and modes of expression, often characterised by striking departures from familiar patterns of language use. By the 1950s, it was clear to most observers that the literature of the preceding decades represented a pivotal event in the history of literature – one which scholars, critics, and readers are still coming to terms with today.

This module includes examples of each of the various genres in which modernist authors worked – short stories, novellas, novels, plays, and poems of varying lengths – and draws on an array of national and cultural traditions, including work by authors of British, Irish, German, American, and Indian origin.

Among the main issues and themes with which the modernists were concerned, the module addresses the alienation and fragmentation of modern society, the angst of the lone individual, empire and imperialism, nationhood and nationalism, the phenomenon of the 'death of God', the changing status of the figure of the artist, a spirit of radical experimentalism in the arts, shifts in gender relations, the emergence of a nascent queer consciousness, economic and financial upheavals, two devastating world wars, and the impact of new technologies and social structures.

Module aims

This module aims to foster students’ cultural awareness and critical thinking by inviting them to consider the unprecedented event of literary modernism – one of the most creative and influential moments in the history of modern literature. The module takes as its focus nine key texts, each of which adds a further episode to the story of modernism as it unfolds between the 1890s and 1950s. Students will acquire or deepen their knowledge of a range of modernist texts, from established classics such as T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to equally remarkable but less widely read texts such as Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ and H. D.’s (Hilda Doolittle) extraordinary trio of poems, Trilogy, as well as modernist writing from beyond the western world in the form of the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Students will also develop an understanding and appreciation of the cultural and historical context in which modernism arose.

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of the module, students should be able to:
1. display a detailed knowledge of a representative range of key modernist authors and texts;
2. demonstrate an awareness of the cultural and historical context in which modernist literature emerged;
3. evaluate and theorize the immediate impact and longer-term implications of modernism for modern culture;
4. demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to engage in intellectual debates around modernist literature;
5. plan, research, and write a critical essay.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

Ten two-hour seminars Module materials will be available on Moodle


  • Kafka, Franz. (no date) The Trial, London: Penguin.
  • Mansfield, Katherine. (no date) The Garden Party and Other Stories, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • Barnes, Djuna. (no date) Nightwood, London: Faber and Faber. vol. 13
  • H. D. (1973) Trilogy: The walls do not fall, Tribute to the angels, The flowering of the rod, New York: New Directions.
  • Woolf, Virginia; Bradshaw, David. (no date) To the Lighthouse, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Eliot, T.S. (no date) The Waste Land and Other Poems, London: Faber and Faber.
  • Thurman, Wallace. (2013) Infants of the Spring, Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
  • Tagore, Rabindranath; Radice, William. (2005) Selected poems, London: Penguin Books.
  • Beckett, Samuel. (no date) Waiting for Godot, London: Faber and Faber.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Written Exercise  23/10/2019  10% 
Coursework   Essay (2,500 words)  03/01/2020  80% 
Practical   Participation    10% 
Exam  120 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main) 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Sean Seeger, email:
Dr Sean Seeger
LiFTS General Office – email Tel 01206 87 2626



External examiner

Prof Duncan James Salkeld
Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature
Available via Moodle
Of 22 hours, 20 (90.9%) hours available to students:
2 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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