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Unit information: The Heart of Modern Fiction: Intimacy, Emotion, Form in 2020/21

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Unit name The Heart of Modern Fiction: Intimacy, Emotion, Form
Unit code ENGL30134
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Doug Battersby
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Intimacy has always been the novel’s cardinal subject, not only in its narrative preoccupation with sex and desire, but also in its very form, allowing readers to access fictional characters’ most intimate thoughts and feelings with a freedom unrivalled by any other literary genre. This unit will examine the techniques writers use to represent characters’ emotions, placing a particular emphasis on the formal innovations of late nineteenth and early twentieth century novelists. Students will encounter seminal texts in the history of the novel, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart (1938). We will also discuss the burgeoning of ‘affect theory’ and the ‘affective turn’ in the humanities identified by many scholars. Readings will include short stories, novels, excerpts from novels, and theoretical discussions of emotion and novelistic techniques. Students will: hone their critical abilities to analyse the representation of emotion both in fiction and in other literary genres; develop their skills in using detailed textual engagement to support arguments; learn how to contextualise specific works in relation to the history of the genre.

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.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students should be able to:

1) Recognise and critically analyse some of the distinctive techniques late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writers used to describe characters’ emotions.

2) Construct an argument about a text based on a detailed analysis of its formal means for representing emotion.

3) Analyse a work of fiction in the context of the history of narrative technique.

4) Demonstrate a knowledge of affect theory and an ability to apply it appropriately.

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 3500 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1856)

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877) [excerpts]

James Joyce, Dubliners (1914) & Ulysses (1922) [excerpts]

Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart (1938)

Jean Améry, Charles Bovary, Country Doctor (1978)

Derek Attridge, ‘Affect,’ in The Work of Literature (2015)