Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)

Module ENGL53730: Edith Wharton

Department: English Studies

ENGL53730: Edith Wharton

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to introduce works by Edith Wharton across a number of literary genres examining samples of her 'classic' fiction and of non-canonical texts;
  • to explore the work of Edith Wharton, pursuing close critical readings within a developing awareness of broader cultural contexts;
  • to offer students the opportunity to pursue at an appropriate level their own lines of interest and to develop their informed critical perspectives;


  • Dubbed as 'Henry James's Heiress' by Q.D. Leavis in 1938, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) is now recognized in her own right as one of the most important American novelists of the earlier twentieth century, and an influence on several generations of younger writers, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Tama Janowitz. She has been viewed as the last and most magesterial of the American Realists ('the literary equivalent of tufted furniture and gas chandeliers' as she once described herself), and as a radical and daring early Modernist. This module will explore the complexity of Wharton's writing, through a range of texts selected from her whole career. We shall examine Innocence (1920) alongside some of the less well known writings now attracting lively critical interest, among them, The Reef (1912), the ghost stories, and Wharton's love-diaries.
  • Along with other contextual and critical reading, setting Wharton in Broader cultural and artistic contexts, the primary texts will also provide the focus for more general discussions of such topics as: Wharton as Social Anthropologist of the Early Twentieth Century; Wharton's constructions of the self in fiction and life-writing; the 'Non-Realist' Wharton: Fantasy, Myth, the Gothic; Wharton, the Decorative Arts, Architecture and Design; Wharton and the voices of 'Modern America.'

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • to gain a good knowledge of a range of Edith Wharton's writings;
  • to be aware of Edith Wharton's place in American literature, and of a variety of current critical approaches to her work;
  • to be able to explore questions of Wharton's relationship to wider cultural or literary movements;
  • to be able to offer a competent account of the workings of individual texts by Wharton, and to be able to suggest cross-currents in the body of her work;
Subject-specific Skills:
    Key Skills:
    • to develop skills in critical analysis, including the ability to assess the critical ideas of others;

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • The module will focus, through texts selected from Wharton's entire career topics such as: American Realism and early Modernism; Wharton as Social Anthropologist; The self in fiction and life-writing; Fantasy, Myth, Ghosts; Wharton and the Decorative Arts; The voices of 'Modern America.'
    • Through a variety of teaching activities and approaches, seminars will facilitate the development of communication and critical skills. Sessions will introduce broad topics and genres, contexts and frameworks to aid conceptual understanding and specific texts for analysis as well as encourage individual interpretation and enquiry. Formative written work and consultation with the module tutor will operate as learning tools, allowing the investigation and testing of ideas and readings. Two summative assignments will assess the competencies and outcomes outlined above and foster advanced independent study.
    • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

    Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Seminars 9 Fortnightly 2 hours 18
    Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
    Preparation and Reading 272
    Total 300

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Essay 3000 words 50%
    Essay 3000 words 50%

    Formative Assessment:

    One essay (2,000 words).

    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University