American Modernism, 1890-1940 - EN818

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
(version 3)
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7 30 (15)






Information below is for the 2017-18 session.


This course examines the growth and development of the 'modernist aesthetic' in American Literature during the first three decades of the twentieth century. The emphasis in American Modernism 1 is on fiction, but there will be room for students to pursue particular interests they may have in drama and the visual arts in the United States during ‘the modernist phase’. Some attempt will be made to consider American Modernism in the wider international context; suggested reading in European Modernism is appended to this reading list.

The seminar programme is arranged along chronological lines; we can, however, adjust our 'itinerary' according to student interests. We’ll take ‘reading weeks’ at some point in mid-term (in consultation with students in the group) and in the final week of term, week 12 (when you’ll need time to work on your essays).


This module appears in:

Contact hours

One two-hour seminar per week

Preliminary reading

1 Introductory

2 Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

3 Willa Cather, My Antonia

4 F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (read, also, Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night)
5 Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (in The Essential Hemingway)

6 Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises [Fiesta] (in The Essential Hemingway)

7 John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer

8 William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
9 William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

10 Jean Toomer, Cane

Other Reading

You will find it helpful if you have read some of the major works of European modernism. I would suggest, particularly, the following:

Joseph Conrad, Chance
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
T. S. Eliot, 'Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', 'The Waste Land', 'The Hollow Men'
James Joyce, Dubliners
James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers
D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love
Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks
Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (Du Cote de chez Swann)
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Some familiarity, also, with the writings of Mark Twain and Henry James will be useful.

Introductory and historical accounts of modernism will be found in the following:

Walter Allen, Tradition and Dream
David Ayers, Modernism: A Short Introduction
Art Berman, Preface to Modernism
Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, eds., Modernism
Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern American Novel
Malcolm Bradbury, ed., The American Novel and the 1920s
David Bradshaw, ed., A Concise Companion to Modernism
Christopher Butler, Early Modernism
Peter Childs, Modernism
Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return
Peter Faulkner, Modernism
Rita Felski, The Gender of Modernity
David Frisby, Fragments of Modernity
Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory
Maxwell Geismar, The Last of the Provincials
Maxwell Geismar, Writers in Crisis
Frederick J. Hoffman, Freudianism and the Literary Mind
Hugh Kenner, A Homemade World
T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace
Brian Lee, American Fiction, 1865-1940
Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism
Michael Levenson, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Modernism
Claud-Edmond Magny, The Age of the American Novel
J.M. Mellard, The Exploded Form: The Modernist Novel in America
Donald Pizer, American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment
Stan Smith, The Origins of Modernism
Michael Spindler, American Literature and Social Change
Douglas Tallack, Twentieth-Century America: The Intellectual and Cultural Context
Edmund Wilson, Axel’s Castle

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

12. The intended subject specific learning outcomes:

I. To develop students' knowledge of the key themes, styles, and theoretical foundations underpinning the competing visions of American modernity represented by key texts of the literary canon.
II. To develop students’ knowledge of the social and cultural contexts of American modernity and the development of the modern American city, particularly in relation to the tensions between ideas of "high" and “low” culture, the relationship of city spaces to the development of intellectual traditions, and the importance of interdisciplinarity to the study of American literature and culture.
III. To develop students’ historical knowledge and conceptual tools to reflect critically upon the categories of the “modernist”, the “American” and their implications for the study of literature and culture in the early 20th Century USA – specifically how regional US variants of modernism differed from their European counterparts and from each other.
IV. To develop and enrich students' knowledge and appreciation of early 20th century American literature, and enhance their skills in analysing a diverse range of texts including architecture, visual culture, film, and critical and philosophical prose.
V. To develop students’ interdisciplinary modes of criticism in the reading of literature and culture in the early 20th century.
VI. To develop students’ capacity to construct nuanced, fluent, and well-reasoned arguments focussed on the imaginative, intellectual, and cultural complexities of American modernism.

13. The intended generic learning outcomes:
I. To enhance students’ abilities to synthesise complex information with precision and subtlety;
II. To enhance students’ abilities to comprehend, analyse, and interrogate a variety of different kinds of text and assess the value of diverse critical approaches and ideas;
III. To enhance students’ fluency and confidence in oral communication;
IV. To enhance students’ capacities to mount complex arguments lucidly and persuasively in both spoken and written contexts;
V. To enhance students’ abilities capacities to carry out independent research.

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