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Unit information: The Art of Grief in 2020/21

Unit name The Art of Grief
Unit code ENGL20116
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Baden-Daintree
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit explores the ways in which writers and artists respond to grief and bereavement. Drawing on a range of media including novels, memoirs, poetic elegies, children’s books, photography, textile art, podcasts and landscape installations, the seminars on this unit explore the ways in which various theoretical approaches to grief and mourning inform creative responses. The unit will appeal to students with an interest in the relationships between art and literature, and literature and medicine.

Seminars will explore the tradition of elegy in poetry from the sixteenth century to the present day, and its influence on other art forms, together with the psychoanalytical basis of contemporary elegiac theory. Recent developments in bereavement theory are in opposition to many influential medical approaches to grief, yet such models continue to inform the creative arts, as well as literary critical approaches to such work.

The unit will also consider the role of natural settings and imagery in the art and literature of mourning.

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a draft or outline of their final, summative essay of up to 1,500 words and to receive feedback on this.

Unit Aims:

  • To introduce students to a wide range of creative responses to grief, loss, bereavement and commemoration, with a particular focus on elegiac poetry.
  • To develop an overview of theoretical and critical approaches to writing on loss and bereavement and the application of these to a range of literary texts and other art forms.
  • To explore the influence of elegy on a range of literary and visual art forms, in both personal and public mourning and commemoration, and the interactions between literature and material culture.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

1. demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a range of grief and bereavement-related materials; this may include poetic elegies, novels, children’s books, elegiac memoirs and examples of visual and material culture from the sixteenth century to the present day.

2. reflect critically on ways in which social and cultural environment affect the creative expression of grief and mourning.

3. apply a critical understanding of the development of the elegiac mode in English poetry to a range of source materials and assess its influence on a range of visual arts and other literary forms.

4. demonstrate a critical understanding of a range of theoretical, social, psychoanalytical, and religious responses to bereavement, together with the ability to relate this historical perspective to current bereavement practice.

5. demonstrate skills in academic writing, close textual analysis, argumentation, and evaluation of evidence from primary texts, other primary source material and critical literature.

Teaching details

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Assessment Details

  • 1 x 3000 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Indicative reading:

Anne Carson, Nox

Don DeLillo, The Body Artist

Thomas Hardy, Poems of 1912-13

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Milton, Lycidas