Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Topics in 20th Century British Literature: Telling Time

ENGL 261.301
instructor(s):
MW 6-7:30

The process of aging that begins at birth affects all living organisms, but awareness of the effects of time is one of the defining aspects of human consciousness and a crucial element in literary narratives. Over the course of the twentieth century, the acceleration of communication, travel, and technological development, along with developments in the science of time, the extension of the life span, and the increasing proliferation of a youth-centered culture, inspired writers to develop new approaches to temporality. As we investigate the progress of time and the process of aging depicted in twentieth-century British literature, we will address some of the following questions: What are the effects of time on human identity? How do individuals negotiate the tensions between inevitable change and the need for continuity? How have the social and political events of the last century in Britain--including the loss of empire, the enfranchisement of women, and the expansion of global consumer culture--affected literary depictions of time, age, and history? Our reading is likely to include texts by Oscar Wilde, May Sinclair, Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Drabble, Martin Amis, and Graham Swift. The course will follow a seminar format, with primary emphasis placed on class discussion. Requirements include an oral presentation, a mid-term essay, a final seminar paper and weekly reading responses.