Skip to main content

Unit information: German Modernist Prose in 2018/19

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name German Modernist Prose
Unit code GERM20045
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Vilain
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will explore the phenomenon of modernism in the German-speaking world using literary and non-literary texts written predominantly between 1895 and 1935 (with the exception of texts by Nietzsche, an important precursor). The fiction of this period is complex and often contradictory and frequently explores the increasing isolation of the individual in a rapidly developing world, the nature of consciousness and the threats posed to the stability of notions of ‘home’ and ‘identity’. It was inspired and influenced to some extent by the thinking of Nietzsche and Freud, but also by socio-political phenomena such as the rise of communism and the parallel development of nationalism, the emancipation of women, the growing importance of science, technology and psychology (including changing attitudes to mental health) – and, not least, the First World War, its genesis and its aftermath. There is an explosion of experimentation in techniques of representation, narrative technique, and linguistic eclecticism.

Texts for study will vary year-by-year. They will represent a range of genres, and will typically include (extracts from) novels (e.g. by Veza Canetti, Alfred Döblin, Rainer Maria Rilke), Novellen (e.g. by Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig), and short stories (e.g. by Marieluise Fleißer, Franz Kafka), as well as extracts from seminal works by Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche.


  • To develop students’ understanding of a body of knowledge that is complex, sophisticated and of lasting significance in European and world culture
  • To facilitate students' engagement with a body of texts, literary and non-literary, primary sources and ideas as a basis for their own analysis and development
  • To develop further skills of synthesis, analysis and independent research, built on the skills acquired in units at level 4
  • To develop an understanding of how literary study is of its nature almost always interdisciplinary.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will be able to demonstrate:

  1. critical knowledge and understanding of a significant body of literature in German at a time of radical change;
  2. an advanced appreciation of the concept of Modernism as a historical and aesthetic term and a sense of how far its German manifestations overlap with / differ from other Western European manifestations;
  3. skills in the selection and synthesis of relevant source and secondary material appropriate for level 5;
  4. skills of independent research and analysis appropriate for level 5;
  5. an ability to respond to questions or problems by presenting independent arguments in an appropriate written style and at a level of complexity appropriate for level 5.

Teaching details

2-hour seminars, including mini-lectures, student presentations, quizzes, small-group and full-group discussion.

Assessment Details

two essays of 2000 words each, each contributing 50% of the total mark, each testing ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

  • Christopher Butler, Early Modernism (Oxford, 1994)
  • Peter Collier and Judy Davies, eds, Modernism and the European Unconscious (Cambridge, 1990)
  • Stephen D. Dowden and Meike G. Werner, ‘The Place of German Modernism’, in: The Oxford Handbook of Modern German History, ed. Helmut Walser Smith (Oxford 2011) [available online]
  • Andreas Huyssen and David Bathrick, eds., Modernity and the Text (New York and Oxford, 1989)
  • Judith Ryan, The Vanishing Subject: Early Psychology and Literary Modernism (Chicago, 1991)
  • Richard Sheppard, Modernism - Dada - Postmodernism (Evanston, 2000)
  • Karin Tebben, ed., Deutschsprachige Schriftstellerinnen des Fin de Siècle (Darmstadt:
  • Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1999)