Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)

Module ENGL42830: Theory of the Novel

Department: English Studies

ENGL42830: Theory of the Novel

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • •Students must hold a good BA degree in English or a related subject to be eligible for entry onto the MA in English Literary Studies.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To survey the major post-1900 theories about the novel, from canonical early- and mid-twentieth-century arguments to important contemporary interventions into the field;
  • To evaluate critically a range of influential claims made about the novel—claims about the novel’s origins, its characteristic forms and aesthetics, its cultural and political significance—in relation to a selection of landmark works of fiction from across the novel’s modern history;
  • To scrutinize in textually and theoretically grounded ways the traditional keywords in the study of the novel, such as individualism, realism, romance, interiority, narration, plot, time, and space;
  • To combine close textual analysis with an understanding of overarching conceptual paradigms and their historical development, and so augment and extend the analytical tools and interpretive and persuasive skills acquired at the undergraduate level.


  • This module surveys critical/theoretical debates about where and why the novel emerged and how it developed, about the novel’s characteristic forms, and about the social, political, cultural, and moral meanings of those forms.
  • This module addresses the major twentieth-century and contemporary accounts of the novel as a form, introducing and assessing a range of classic arguments (selections from Erich Auerbach, Mikhail Bakhtin, Richard Chase, Joseph Frank, Georg Lukács, and Ian Watt) as well as major contemporary contributions to debates about the novel (selections from Nancy Armstrong, Peter Brooks, Ian Duncan, Michael McKeon, D.A. Miller, and Franco Moretti).
  • This module focuses and refines large-scale and far-reaching theoretical inquiries about the novel through the test cases of six landmark texts from across the modern/post-Renaissance history of long prose fiction: the foundational picaresque Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722), Richardson’s Pamela (1740), Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851), and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927). This range of test cases facilitates (i) the textually grounded and historically informed evaluation of the theoretical claims under scrutiny, (ii) the confident identification of continuities and discontinuities in the history of the novel and of their implications for theorizing about the form.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An extensive and detailed knowledge of theoretical claims and debates about the novel, and of their histories;
  • A strong command of the ways in which theories of the novel intersect with and/or modify and/or supplement one another;
  • An informed insight into the utility of genre as a category for literary analysis;
  • A confident grasp both of the utility of particular theories for specific literary-historical periods and of the potential trans-historical portability of others.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • Advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary and theoretical texts;
  • An ability to offer advanced analysis of formal, aesthetic, and social 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 linguistic contexts of literature;
  • An ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical literary material, and to apply that knowledge and understanding to particular texts
  • 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 analyze 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
Summative essay 3,000 words 50%
Summative essay 3,000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

One essay of not more than 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