54705 - English Literature 3

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

Upon completing this course students will have acquired an in-depth knowledge of the history of English literature. They will have obtained critical insight into a selection of literary works and will be capable of evaluating their literary qualities, analysing them with the help of precise critical metholodogies. They will have acquired the theoretical tools they need to recognise the formal, thematic and stylistic components of the works included in the syllabus, relating them to their historical and cultural contexts. They will be able to discuss, translate and relate the contents of these works from a linguistic, historical and philological viewpoint.

Course contents

“The past is a foreign country”: Love, Sex, War and the English Country House

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” With these words begins L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953), the great novel of a writer that today is virtually unknown. This text explores the relation between memory, trauma and identity by reverting to the past in which the present is rooted. We may consider the past as finished, even remote, but it never quits us. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida encapsulated this paradoxical quality of the past in the paradigm of hauntology, a term he coined (playing on the homophony between hantologie and ontologie) to describe the spectral presence of the past in the present.

In Hartley’s novel a man who is growing old revisits his childhood to retrieve contact with his deep essence, his authentic nature, which was warped by trauma. It is against the backdrop of a country house that Hartley set this story, which not only depicts the devastating impact of war on the social tissue, but which also explores a force that is inherently transgressive of the social order, ie desire. In Hartley’s text the impossible love story between the female heroine and a man of lower social status precipitates into tragedy because a young boy has been chosen by the couple as their go-between. Far from pertaining to the sphere of the private, this story takes on an allegorical quality, since the novel opens in the year 1900, which the young hero imagines as ‘the dawn of a Golden Age’, and actually touches upon as many as three great conflicts, from the Second Boer War (1899-1902) to World War Two.

It was Hartley’s book that inspired another great British novelist – Ian McEwan – to write Atonement (2001). Once again, in this novel the country house – intended as the emblem of power, of tradition and of a social system that is rigidly divided into classes – short-circuits with the dynamics of desire due to the catalysing role of a child, and once again the text expands on the devastating effects of war.

Together with these two texts, the course will explore others in which these themes recur in different configurations. In Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898) a country house provides the setting for the ‘war’ that a governess has to fight against the mysterious demonic entities that seem to possess the two orphaned children who have been entrusted to her: Flora and Miles, an emblematic name since miles in Latin means soldier. The uncontrollable power of sexuality is the dark source that nourishes this Victorian ghost story, which is full of ellipses, but also vibrant with restrained emotions. Having the story told by the governess, who is frightened and confused, both vulnerable and undaunted, James experimented with the technique of the ‘unreliable narrator’, which is at the core of most of the texts we will study.

An unreliable narrator who deceives himself concerning people and events features in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989), a novel that pivots on the relation between a butler and his master during the troubled days of World War Two. The country house is here depicted as a shrine of rituals which have lost their function, although they retain their appeal. In this novel devotion is misplaced and love is unrequited, but dignity remains and a journey into the past is required to heal old wounds thanks to the balm of awareness…

A very different message transpires from D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). This novel brings us back to the years following World War One, dramatizing the return of ex combatants whose body is mutilated and whose psyche is traumatised. In the interwar years, the deeply uneasy relation between ex fighters and the surrounding environment was repeatedly rendered in novels and stories where these uncanny figures are seen through the eyes of women who loved them before war and who no longer recognise them. This is what happens in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, where the destructive power of war – epitomising the dark side of industrial mechanism – triggers transgression against the background of a country house which is deprived of its aura.


Primary sources:

Students are expected to read these five texts:

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898)

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928)

L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (1989)

Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)

If possible, students are invited to buy the following editions, which include useful critical materials:

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898), introduction David Bromwich, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 2011.

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), introduction by Doris Lessing, ed. Michael Squires, Hardmondsworth, Penguin, 2007

L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953), introduction by Douglas Brooks-Davies, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004

Critical sources:

While discussing literary texts during the exam both those students who have actively participated in the course and those who have not been able to do so will be expected to offer a critical discussion of these primary sources. To this end, all students are expected to study the following critical sources:

Finney, Brian, ‘Briony’s Stand Against Oblivion: The Making of Fiction in Ian McEwan’s Atonement’, Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 27, No. 3, Winter 2004, pp. 68-82.

Halttunen, Karen, ‘“Through the Cracked and Fragmented Self”: William James and The Turn of the Screw’, American Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Dec. 1988), pp. 472-490.

Huyssen, Andreas, ‘Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia’, Public Culture, Volume 12, Number 1, Winter 2000, pp. 21-38.

Ingersoll, Earl G., ‘Intertextuality in L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between and Ian McEwan’s Atonement’, Forum of Modern Language Studies, Vol. xl, No. 3, 2004, pp. 241-258.

Marcus, Amit, ‘Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day: The Discourse of Self-Deception’, Partial Answers, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2006, pp. 129-150.

Meyers, Jeffrey, ‘Theme and Variations: Lady Chatterley’s Lover and L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between’, Gettysburg Review, Vol. 23, Issue 1, Spring 2010, pp. 120-133.

Students will finally be required to prove their knowledge of the main tendencies of twentieth century English literature. Reference text: Lilla Maria Crisafulli e Keir Elam, Manuale di letteratura e cultura inglese, Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2009, pp. 327-411. This does not apply to Erasmus students.

Teaching methods

The course will consist of

1) frontal lessons, aiming to provide participants with the critical tools they need to interrogate and understand literary texts, both in terms of linguistic analysis and of historical/cultural contexts;

2) seminars in which students will discuss a literary text in an informal context;

3) since our critical itinerary will be cultural rather than literary, the course will include the viewing and discussion of films.

Assessment methods

Two different options are possible:

1) A written test followed by an oral exam.

The written test will take place only once, at the end of the course, and will assess the students' knowledge of the main lines of 20th century English literature as outlined in the Manuale di letteratura e cultura inglese. The test will consist of 10 multiple choice questions and 1 open question. Each correct answer in the first group will be awarded 2 marks while up to 6 marks will be awarded for a good reply to the open question.

The written test will be followed by a 20-minute oral exam in English the aim of which is to evaluate the students' critical and methodological skills. In order to assess these skills students will be invited to discuss the literary and critical texts that will have been presented during the course.

2) Oral exam only.

Those who decide not to take - or who will not pass - the written test, will have to take a 25-minute oral exam in English, which will be divided into two parts. The first part will focus on 20th century English literature, while the second will aim to evaluate the students' critical and methodological skills. In order to assess these skills, students will be invited to discuss the literary and critical texts that will have been presented during the course.

NB: In order to take this exam, students who are registered in Bologna need to have already passed the following exams: Lingua e linguistica inglese 1, Lingua e linguistica inglese 2, Letteratura inglese 1, Letteratura inglese 2. This does not apply to Erasmus students.

Teaching tools

The Powerpoint files that will be used during the course will be available for students on the AMS Campus website

Office hours

See the website of Maurizio Ascari