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MA in English – University of Reading

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  • MA English

    Take your knowledge of the literary world further

MA in English

ell-book-pileThe MA in English presents students with an exciting range of topics and periods, from the Renaissance stage to minority literatures in contemporary Britain. We deploy our distinctive research strengths, and our world-leading literary collections, to produce a degree that embodies the best of contemporary critical and archival work.

You can choose to follow a specific study track, focusing entirely on the Medieval and the Renaissance, the Victorians, or the Modern and Contemporary (including creative writing options), or you can make your own combinations of different periods and critical and creative practices.

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  • Freedom of choice to build your own pathway
  • Small group teaching
  • Involvement with unique archival materials
  • Careful guidance at every stage, from beginning graduate study to drafting your dissertation
  • Access to the largest collection of Samuel Beckett papers in the world.


There are two autumn-term core modules.

  • Modern English Studies introduces students to some of the key structuring ideas of the field, from large period labels (Victorian, Early Modern, Modern, Contemporary), to specific contexts (from early modern theatrical convention to writing and reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa).
  • Materiality and Textuality introduces students to research, editorial, and bibliographical techniques, with an emphasis on working in our literary archives.


You may choose options from different periods, or you may group them according to the following tracks:


The Medieval and Renaissance track

ell-ma-renaissanceWe have an unusual concentration of experts in Renaissance Studies. They have written books on: fantasy and history in Medieval literature (Aisling Byrne) the secret political histories of the seventeenth century (Rebecca Bullard); staging foreign cultures and identities (Mark Hutchings); Renaissance utopias (Chloe Houston); politics and religious performance (Mary Morrissey); friendship and writing (Michelle O'Callaghan). We also benefit from the activities of the Early Modern Research Centre, which organises guest lectures and conferences. This track offers a scholarly assessment of some of the most vital themes and issues in the field, spanning the stage, poetry, prose narrative and sermons.




The Victorian track

ell-victorian-trackThis track covers an array of canonical and non-canonical writings, from Dickens to sensation fiction to lyric poetry. It draws on our unique holdings on Oscar Wilde and the 1890s, and our strong relationships with the London museums. We offer research-led teaching by scholars who have written books on: Dickens and medicine (Andrew Mangham); the Victorian body (Lucy Bending); sexual identity and dance (Peter Stoneley).






The Modern and Contemporary track

ell-minorities2This track offers study opportunities on writing and feminism, migration, postcolonialism, and modern and contemporary drama. The practice-based component of this track is also a key feature, with creative writing tutorials and workshops across different genres. Our critics and literary historians on this track include authors of books on minority literature in Britain and the United States (Bryan Cheyette); Anglo-Jewish identities (David Brauner); working-class fiction (Nicola Wilson); 'race', ethnicity and gender in non-naturalistic British drama (Nicola Abram); and modernism (Steven Matthews, Peter Robinson). We have a number of leading Beckett specialists, including Mark Nixon and Conor Carville. Our creative writers include prize-winning novelists and poets, including Kate Clanchy, MBE and Shelley Harris.




ell-samuel-beckett-ma-moduleSamuel Beckett was one of the leading authors and intellectual figures of the twentieth century. In his searing theatrical images and prose writings, Beckett achieved a spare beauty and vision of human suffering, shot through with dark comedy and humour. Beckett is the figure who, perhaps more than any other writer or intellectual in mid-century Europe, articulated the crisis of civilization in the post-war era. It is, therefore, a tremendous cultural and scholarly resource that the biggest collection of Beckett papers in the world is housed in the University of Reading, under the aegis of the Beckett International Foundation. Students of this module will be encouraged to make use of this Archive, in a module that will examine Beckett's work in drama, prose, poetry and non-fiction, and in different media such as TV and film. As well as undertaking close textual analysis, it will place Beckett's work in relation to his life and wider cultural contexts. Topics to be discussed in seminars will include Beckett's relationship to intellectual currents such as modernism/post-modernism; the impact on his work of psychology, the visual arts, and his wide reading in theology and philosophy; and his relationship to Ireland, to Europe and to the political contexts from which he wrote. Supported by the expertise of internationally renowned scholars who have ensured that the University of Reading has remained the centre of Beckett Studies for over 30 years, this module offers a unique opportunity to study the experimental and challenging work of Samuel Beckett.


Creative and Critical Writing

ell-ma-creativeBy means of a weekly seminar, this module will provide you with the opportunity to workshop some of the creative writing that you will submit as your dissertation-portfolio. The number of students in each seminar group will be limited to ten, so that small group cohesion can be developed, and so that you each two-hour workshop can be focused solely on your work. You will keep a learning journal of your weekly responses to the work of fellow students, and your responses to their critical assistance with your own. This learning journal will be submitted for credit at the end of the term. (Your workshop creative writing, in revised form, will be put towards the work submitted in your portfolio at the dissertation deadline.) The module will also introduce you critically to the practice of reviewing within your genre, and its evolving rhetoric of criticism and praise. You will choose a book published during the first term of your particular academic year within the writing genre that you have chosen to follow, and will also submit for credit a review of that volume.


Diasporas of the Mind - Minority Literature in Britain

Tell-ma-diasporahis comparative module will bring together a diverse group of contemporary literary texts and cultural histories which cross racial, ethnic and national divides in Britain. The authors on the course will be read together with an eclectic group of critical theorists and cultural historians all of whom attempt to rethink present-day identity politics. Theoretical concepts that we will discuss include: "Identity Politics", "Postethnicity", "Multiculturalism", "Cosmopolitanism", "Minority", "Race", "Hybridity", "Diaspora", "Community", "Universalism", "Particularism" and "Britishness". The module will identify some of the main trends in contemporary British fiction and situate them in historical context.

The module explores the relationship between a range of contemporary minority British fiction with regard to the theory and practice of multiculturalism and cultural pluralism. Through detailed discussion of the work of Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Caryl Phillips, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Kazio Ishiguro, Clive Sinclair, Elaine Feinstein and Zadie Smith it examines the use and misuse of such categories as "Postcolonial", "Black-British", "British-Jewish" and "British-Asian" in relation to recent debates, both general and within the academy, concerning the growth of a plural British identity. Thus the module explores contemporary literature in relation to these debates and notions of a twenty-first century Britishness.


Philip Roth

ell-brauner-rothThis module explores the career of Philip Roth, by common consent the most important American novelist of the period and one of the most significant figures in Anglophone post-war fiction. Roth published twenty-seven works of fiction in an oeuvre that spans high seriousness (Letting Go (1962)) and low humour (The Great American Novel (1973)), expansive monologue (Portnoy's Complaint (1969)) and elliptical dialogue (Deception (1990)), spare realism (When She Was Good (1967)) and extravagant surrealism (The Breast (1972)), historical fiction (the 'American Trilogy' (1997-2000)) and counter-factual narratives (The Plot Against America (2004)). He won every major domestic and international literary award, with the exception of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and continued to publish prolifically and generate controversy well into his seventies.

The module will examine Roth's fiction, alongside his non-fiction and the extensive body of critical work on him, in a number of different contexts: as part of a tradition of comic fiction that encompasses European modernists such as Kafka, Gogol and Schulz, as well as American contemporaries such as Bellow, Malamud and Heller; as a chronicler of, and commentator on, American post-war history; as a postmodernist author of 'counterfactual', (self-) deconstructive narratives; as a social and political satirist; and as a self-consciously male Jewish author, who repeatedly explored questions of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity.


The unruly stage in Shakespeare's London

ell-the-globeWhat was the place of the stage in Renaissance England? How is the theatre and its cultural role to be understood? On the one hand, theatrical companies served the court, providing entertainment for the monarch; on the other, plays threatened public order through their illicit pleasures and dangerous debates. This module provides the opportunity to explore the contradictory status of the Renaissance theatre through a range of optional topics. Theatre, the state and censorship provides one avenue for addressing this issue, through the study of censored plays, such as Shakespeare's Richard II and Middleton's popular and controversial Game at Chess. The concept of the 'paper stage' enables us to assess theatre's participation in a wider public sphere by extending the parameters of public performance to include scurrilous pamphlets, satires and libels. Playwrights put London on stage, allowing us to analyse the way social spaces (shops, taverns, prisons) are dramatised, from Dekker's Shoemaker's Holiday to Middleton's Chaste Maid in Cheapside, as well as conditions of playgoing in early modern London. By attending to the body of the actor in performance, in plays such as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Jonson's Epicoene, we can engage with recent critical work in gender and performance studies.


Victorian Innovations

ell-ma-victorianThis module will explore the range of new forms and genres that emerged in the Victorian period and which went on to shape the culture of the twentieth century. Making special use of unique library holdings, it will examine how changes in modes of cultural production and consumption underpinned these innovations and helped to influence the emergence of modernist modes of writing.

Tracing the development of new forms and genres, and examining the relevance of transformations in publishing and reading practice to the emerging preoccupation with the commodification of literature, and debates over high and low culture, the module touches on the formal concerns of major novelists who have been identified as the nineteenth century's major literary innovators. These topics will be read within the context of contemporary theoretical debates over fiction and developments in journalism and periodical publication.  Authors may include Charles Dickens, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Robert Browning, and George Eliot.


Opening up Medieval Texts

Medieval dogThis module will explore literature in English at the end of the Middle Ages. This period sees the revival and, indeed, reinvention of English as a literary vernacular, after several generations of domination by French. Students will explore the great innovations in the form and content of English literature in this period and will be introduced to the work of key authors, like Geoffrey Chaucer. This module will explore new literary forms that emerge in the Middle Ages, like romance, and treatments of new narrative material, such as the Arthurian legend. How do authors in this period interrogate ideas like chivalry, courtly love, religious authority and gender? Students will also explore the wide range of material and performance contexts in which these texts were received - in manuscript, early print, oral recitation, musical and dramatic performance. We will consider how these contexts influence medieval approaches to concepts like the author, genre and textual authority. No prior experience of medieval language or literature is required.


 Literature and Culture in the 1850s

crystal palaceThe aims of this module are to introduce students to the range and complexity of literary and cultural life in Britain in the 1850s, and to investigate the relations between literary texts and contemporary events. This module examines the literary, cultural, political, scientific and technological innovations of the decade in order to explore the relations between these events, their effects on each other, and the modes of representation they generated. We will study a broad range of texts, including fiction, poetry, drama, essays, scientific works, newspaper articles, and material from the University's Special Collections. Students will also be introduced to the practice and protocols of archival research.


Modern Literary Feminisms: Theories/Praxis/Texts

women's rightsThis module aims to introduce students to the dynamic field of literary feminism, from the late twentieth century to the present day. It foregrounds the multiplicity of the term 'feminism', through attention to intersecting issues of race, class, and sexuality. It aims to juxtapose different kinds of text, questioning the often gendered value judgements inherent in the category of 'literature' and its established canon. For this module you will explore aspects of feminist theory and praxis through reference to a range of texts - including fiction, non-fiction, film, drama, blogs and websites - to problematize the implicit hierarchies contained in different kinds of knowledge. We will reflect on our own embodied knowledge and connect our reading with the (gendered) world around us.


Literature and Medicine

uterusThis module explores the complex intersections between literature and medicine between 1750 and 1900. This period of revolution saw new and enormous demands put on medicine. Urban migration, industrial development, and other pressures of 'modern life' put unprecedented strain on human bodies and minds. Machines introduced a new range of serious and catastrophic injuries, plus easier international travel increased the number of micro-biotic migrants. In this module, we will explore how these developments had an impact on the shape and quality of the period's fiction: literature by the likes of Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and Emile Zola featured ideas and influences from a range of writings on medicine and, in shape and texture, the novel responded to the wider philosophical and pragmatic debates running through the medical field. In this module you will get to grips with the history of medical humanities; we will consider canonical and non-canonical texts alongside medical treatises, medical journals and real case histories.


Our MA students are invited to all of our guest lectures and research seminars. In addition, every year we organise "cultural expeditions" specifically for our MA students.


Find out more about this course

For more information, entry requirements and to apply, visit our course catalogue.

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