The Awkward Age: Transatlantic Culture and Literature in Transition, 1880 -1920 - EN866

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
(version 2)
View Timetable
7 30 (15) DR SN Lyons







This module explores the affinities, disjunctions, and dialogue between American, British, and Irish literary traditions from 1880 to 1920. The turn of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth gave writers on both sides of the Atlantic an acute sense of epochal drama and self-consciousness: they brooded over ideas of decadence, apocalypse, progress, revolution, and the nature of the zeitgeist; heralded endings, transitions, repetitions, reversals, and beginnings; and explored the ambivalences and confusions provoked by the idea of the 'modern'. We will pay particular attention to how writers conceptualise and represent history and time, and seek to anatomise the varieties of pessimism, nostalgia, and utopian thinking that the turn of the century inspired.
This module focuses on texts by both canonical and non-canonical writers that often fall through the cracks of conventional literary history because they were published in the 'awkward age' and are often considered neither solidly Victorian nor yet programmatically modernist. We will interrogate standard national narratives of literary history (in the case of Britain, the compartmentalisations of the fin de siècle and the Edwardian, and in the case of America, those of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era), as well as the assumption that national literary traditions were distinct and coherent in the period. We will consider how American, British, and Irish writers reckoned with the forces shaping transatlantic intellectual and cultural life, especially post-Darwinian science, imperialism, socialism, feminism, and cosmopolitan ideals of culture. We will also consider how writers made the awkwardness of the age not simply a thematic preoccupation but a complex aesthetic challenge, prompting innovations as well as efforts to sustain the ideal of a literary tradition.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

10 x 2hr seminars (20 hours).

Method of assessment

100% Coursework

Preliminary reading

E. M. Forster, Howard's End
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland
HG Wells, The War of the Worlds
Jack London, White Fang
Willa Cather, Song of the Lark
W. E. B. Du Bois, The Quest of the Silver Fleece
Edmund Gosse, Father and Son
George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara

Short stories by Rudyard Kipling and Henry James
Poetry by Charlotte Mew, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, A. E. Housman, Mina Loy

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

11.1 To develop a sophisticated understanding of some key genres, themes, and formal strategies of American, British, and Irish literature in a period of cultural transition;
11.2 To provide students with the historical knowledge and conceptual tools to reflect critically upon conventional literary periodisations and the constitution of national literary traditions;
11.3 To extend students' knowledge and appreciation of late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century literature beyond canonical writers, and enhance their skills in analysing a diverse range of texts including plays, poetry, short stories, and autobiography;
11.4 To engage with current debates about the value of critical frameworks such as 'the transatlantic' and 'cosmopolitanism', as well as to assess the nature of a range of literary movements and genres that flourished in the period but are often obscured by the rubric of the 'Victorian' and the ‘modernist’, including decadence, naturalism, the ‘New Woman’ novel, the romance revival of the 1890s, science fiction, satire and comic writing, the 'antiquarian' ghost story, the adventure story, and life-writing.

12.1 Ability to synthesise complex information with precision and subtlety;
12.2 Ability to comprehend, analyse, and interrogate a variety of texts and assess the value of diverse critical approaches and ideas;
12.3 Improve fluency and confidence in oral communication;
12.4 Improve capacity to mount complex arguments lucidly and persuasively in both spoken and written contexts;
12.5 Ability to situate their own arguments in relation to complex critical debates, and to articulate the implications of their own intellectual positions;
12.6 Develop their capacity to carry out independent research.

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.