Writing Unreason: Literature and Madness in the Modern World - CP811

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


This module is designed to introduce students to major literary works (in various genres) from the early nineteenth century to the present day that explore the theme of madness, with a particular focus on the function of madness as a metaphor. The module will encourage students to consider the historical contexts out of which the various texts emerge, and to analyse the ways in which modern European literature takes up the theme of madness to explore social, psychological, philosophical, religious, and aesthetic questions. Particular attention will be paid to the close analysis of literary style in order to assess each writer's attempt to capture the discourse of madness. Topics for consideration will include the relation between artistic creativity and madness, madness as a form of socio-political resistance, madness and gender, the figure of the 'double', and, above all, the extent to which Michel Foucault is justified in claiming in 'The History of Madness' that in the post-Enlightenment period 'unreason has belonged to whatever is decisive, for the modern world, in any work of art'.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 20

Method of assessment

Essay (5000 words) - 100%

Indicative reading

Any edition of the works listed below:
Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein's Nephew (1982);
Georg Büchner, Woyzeck (c. 1836–7)
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Double (1846);
Nikolai Gogol, Diary of a Madman (1835)
Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis (2000);
Vladimir Nabokov, Despair (1934);
Gérard de Nerval, Aurélia (1855);
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:
Demonstrate familiarity with the substantial interaction between modern European Literature and the theme of madness;
Demonstrate knowledge of the cultural and historical contexts in which literature and the theme of madness have interacted since the European Enlightenment;
Critically assess the distinctive stylistic and generic features of modern European literary works that engage with the theme of madness;
Examine the way in which writers in the modern period have actively engaged with various forms of non-literary discourse in their depictions of madness, these discourses including the medical/scientific, the mystical and philsophical, and the psychoanalytic;
Demonstrate refinement in communcation skills and argumentation, through on extended piece of written coursework;
Demonstrate development in close reading and analytical skills;
Demonstrate independent research skills.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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