Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)

Module ENGL42230: Literature of the Supernatural

Department: English Studies

ENGL42230: Literature of the Supernatural

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module aims to:
  • provide students with an understanding of the cultural and epistemological background behind both fictional and non-fictional literature on ghosts, witchcraft, and magic in the early modern period.
  • compare and contrast this with the largely fictional literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Le Fanu, Stoker, and MR James, among others) to show how the supernatural is often detached from religion and theology, and comes instead to offer oblique representations of gender, sexuality, personal identity, and modernity.
  • combine close textual analysis with an understanding of historical and literary contexts, and in the process to develop further the analytical, interpretive, critical and persuasive skills acquired at undergraduate level.


  • Making integral use of the Early English Books Online database, this module will set dramatic works such as Doctor Faustus and The Witch of Edmonton in the wider context of British and continental witch persecutions. In doing so it will bring factual data to bear on these plays, and also subject relevant witch pamphlets or handbooks (e.g. James I's Daemonology) to literary as well as cultural analysis. It will then shift to the supernatural concerns of the later seventeenth century, via texts such as Bromhall's History of Apparitions, and works on ghosts, poltergeists and the soul by Richard Baxter and Henry More. In this area students will be encouraged to consider how this kind of nominally factual literature relates to concerns about materialism, atheism, and the nascent scientific culture of the civil war and Restoration periods.
  • Shifting to the very different cultural and social backgrounds associated with Gothic and early Edwardian literature of the supernatural, the module will then look at vampire and ghost stories by Polidori, Le Fanu, Stoker, Henry James, and MR James. Students will be encouraged to make independent use of relevant databases (Literature Online, Nineteenth Century Newspapers) as well as secondary reading to secure and nuance understanding of the concerns which underlie both these works and the reading of them (most notably, by young genteel women of the day).

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An extensive and detailed knowledge of the literature covered
  • A sense of the different uses to which the supernatural was put before and after the scientific and social revolutions of European society
  • An awareness of the factors behind the different spectres of different epochs: why the witch in the early-modern era, and the vampire in the nineteenth century? what did the witch come to mean in cultures of incipient or advanced modernity?
  • An appreciation of the religious and scientific factors underlying representations of the supernatural, both across and within the two broad periods under analysis (eg, in the latter case: Protestantism v Catholicism).
  • A sound knowledge of the critical debates surrounding these questions.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • Advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary and factual texts;
  • An ability to interrogate the boundaries between factual and fictional texts;
  • An ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature;
  • An ability to articulate and substantiate at a high level an imaginative response to literature;
  • An ability to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the cultural, intellectual, socio-political and anthropological contexts of relevant literature;
  • An ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical literary material;
  • An advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical literary terminology.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

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

  • Students are encouraged to develop advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills as well as the ability to communicate an advanced knowledge and conceptual understanding within seminars; the capacity for advanced independent study is demonstrated through the completion of two assessed pieces of work.
  • 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 1 3000 words 50%
Essay 2 3000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

One essay (2,000 words maximum).

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