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Inside Literature

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On this module, we will explore the way texts imagine and challenge the human tendency to overreach.

We will look at such questions as 'What can fictions tell us about the truths of the human condition that mere facts cannot?' and 'How do texts help us to construct our understanding of our society and where its future lies?'

You will learn to read reflectively and analytically through a close study of novels, plays, poems and short stories.

We will begin with extracts from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s1984 (1949) and will trace the way developments in science, technology and knowledge are entwined with the hunger for power. We will then turn to the play Doctor Faustus (1604/1616), Christopher Marlowe's exploration of temptation and bargaining with the soul, and Coleridge's nightmarish story of 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1798).

After exploring some apocalyptic short fiction, from E. M. Forster and Daphne du Maurier, the second half of the course will compare Mary Shelley’s vision of humanity in Frankenstein (1818) with the speculative predictions of Octavia Butler’s ‘Speech Sounds’ (1983) and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985). Some may say we now live in a 'post truth' society, but that truth is very much open to interpretation.

This course is for anyone with an interest in literature and the enthusiasm to take that interest further. It operates as part of the Inside Narratives pathway, and will equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help you to study other courses in the pathway.

Learning and teaching

This course consists of nine units divided into themes.

These sessions will include lectures, class discussions and group-work, source analysis activities and exercises to develop your academic skills.

There will also be an opportunity for learning outside of the classroom, facilitated by the university's virtual learning environment, Learning Central.

Syllabus content

  • Week 1 - Introduction: Overreaching in Science and Society: Extracts from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s 1984 (1949)
  • Week 2 - The Price of the Soul: Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1604/1616).
  • Week 3 - Romantic Nightmares I: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1798)
  • Week 4 - Romantic Nightmares II: Lord Byron’s 'Darkness' (1816) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)
  • Week 5 - Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Week 6 - Visions of the Future I: E. M. Forster, 'The Machine Stops' (1909) and Daphne du Maurier, 'The Birds' (1952)
  • Week 7 - Visions of the Future II: Octavia Butler, ‘Speech Sounds’ (1983)
  • Week 8 - Dystopia: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985)
  • Week 9 - The Handmaid's Tale and conclusions.

Photocopies of poems and short stories will be provided. Any edition is acceptable for each text, except for Doctor Faustus, where the Norton Critical Edition is recommended (and we will be reading the A text). For Frankenstein, students should read the 1818 version.

Students are only expected to read extracts from Brave New World and 1984 but may wish to read them in their entirety in light of our current political context.

There will be no class during the half term week.

Coursework and assessment

Students will produce a short analysis of an extract from one of the set texts (approx. 500 words) from the first half of the course and a short essay (1000-1200 words) exploring broader themes.

Reading suggestions

  • Marsh, N. (2002) How to Begin Studying English Literature. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave.
  • Peck, J. and Coyle, M. (2002) A Brief History of English Literature. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave.

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.