EN3PMB-(Post) Modernist Biofiction: Henry James, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath in Contemporary Literature

Module Provider: English Literature
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Dr Bethany Layne

Email: b.layne@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:
This module explores the contemporary trend for biographical fiction about author figures, focusing on twenty-first-century novels and films about Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath. It provides students with the opportunity to analyse the genre of biofiction in relation to some of the central ideas of postmodernism, including the Death of the Author, the interrelation of factual and fictional discourses, and the discursive nature of subjectivity. Interrogating notions of fact, fiction, truth, and ethics, the module introduces students to the potential and the plurality of biofiction, while enabling comparisons between different treatments of the same subjects.

The module equips students to think critically about the literary afterlives of three canonical writers, an early Modernist, a high Modernist, and a postmodernist. By comparing fictional versions of James, Woolf, and Plath, students will develop an informed understanding of biofiction and the literary biopic as genres. They will also explore the interrelation between these creative genres and postmodern literary theory.

We will ask questions such as: what licences contemporary writers to appropriate historical figures, and by what ethical considerations are they governed? How can we explain the appeal of these particular subjects? Does biofiction about writers mark a return to authorial internationalism, or are more sophisticated outcomes possible?

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of this module, students will be able to:
- exercise skills of close textual analysis
- show an awareness of theoretical contexts
- engage critically with ideas raised in seminars and secondary reading
- research and construct a scholarly argument in written form, both in coursework essays and under timed examination conditions
- compare and contrast the representation of James, Woolf, and Plath in contemporary fiction and film, and make further comparisons between different representations of each subject
- think and write critically about biofiction and the literary biopic as sub-genres of contemporary literature and cinema
- analyse these new forms of writing in relation to their sister genres, such as biography, autobiography, historical fiction, metafiction, adaptation, and roman a clef
- discuss how biofiction both emerges from theoretical debates, and has the potential to intervene in these debates

Additional outcomes:
Oral and written communication skills will be developed, together with critical, interpretative and analytical abilities. Students will also enhance their IT competence through the use of relevant web resources in a critically informed manner. They will also enhance their ability to work collaboratively, sharing knowledge and skills.

Outline content:

Texts may include: Colm Toibin, The Master (2004), David Lodge, Author, Author, (2004), Michael Cunningham, The Hours (1999), Susan Sellers, Vanessa and Virginia (2008), Emma Tennant, The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted (2001) and Kate Moses, Wintering (2003). Films mat include: David Hare/Stephen Daldry, The Hours (2002), and John Brownlow/Christine Jeffs, Sylvia (2003)

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
Three seminar hours weekly, which will take the form of two blocks of 1 and 2 hours respectively, for which students are required to do preparatory reading. The two-hour block will be devoted to discussion of the primary text, while the one-hour block will attend to autobiographical essays by the biofiction authors, where available.

Students are also entitled to a half-hour tutorial on their formative written work. With the consent of the module convenor, students may also undertake a placement, through which they will learn how to apply the knowledge and skills gained in studying for this module in a professional context outside the University.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 33 1
Tutorials 0.5
Guided independent study 126.5 39
Total hours by term 160.00 40.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Written assignment including essay 50

Other information on summative assessment:

work which always contributes towards the overall module mark: Students will write either a summative essay (2250-2500 words), or a short piece of biofiction on James, Woolf, or Plath (1250-1500 words), accompanied by a reflective commentary (1000-1250 words). They will also complete a two-hour examination, comprising two questions.

Formative assessment methods:

work which provides opportunities to improve performance (e.g. through feedback provided) but which does not necessarily always contribute towards the overall module mark: Students write one formative essay, of 1500 words. Feedback will also be provided on the assessed essay of 2250-2500 words, or the equivalent placement report.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:

    A mark of at least 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Re-examination in August. Coursework will be carried forward if it bears a confirmed mark of 40% or more. Otherwise it must be resubmitted by 25 August.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Key Readings List:
    You can view a Key Readings list for this module here: http://readinglists.reading.ac.uk/lists/9BADFD72-EC6C-3BF2-BD2F-B2A3AE711A44 N.B. Reading lists may change before the module starts.

    Last updated: 4 April 2017

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