ENGL 366 (3 cr): The Modern British and Irish Novel

ENGL 462

Course Description

English 366 examines the startling new developments in British novel writing that took place roughly from the turn of the 20th century to 1930. The temper of the first half of the 20th century has been described as revolutionary in nature (or perhaps, to quote Hegel’s famous line, the “end of history” was at hand). From the altitudes of philosophical enquiry to the earth-bound copiousness of everyday life, startling, unsettling, and revelatory changes made the world of the 1940s a much different place than it had been at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897.

World wars, political revolutions in Europe and beyond, murderous civil and colonial/imperial wars, economic depression, and successive waves of technological modernization offering mixed psychological and social benefits and injuries laid siege to assumptions that the world was in any way well-ordered or reliably understood.

The British and Irish novel of the first half of the 20th century is no different. It not only reflects a conscious program of innovation and experiment in the writing of fiction, it also finds itself sometimes in attitudes of opposition to these passions for change. Each of these texts needs to be seen in terms of the particularity of its response to the dialectic of rupture and continuity involved in the making of art. Our course readings explore the major stylistic preoccupations of  modernist novelists – these are writers obsessed with aesthetic shifts and creations (birthing new narrative voices, experimenting with how to reproduce individual perception, bending and breaking the novel’s shape and focus, reproducing visual arts techniques); their obsessions respond in complex ways to the aforementioned complete explosion of sociocultural changes (first wave feminism, gender constructs, class constructs, industrialism, generation-ending wars, collapse of empire).

We’ll also consider various academic and critical constructions of the modernist canon, including that of the the Leavisites and New Critics, the various revisions by feminists and post-colonial and race critics/historians in the latter half of the 20th century, and the versions presented more recently by the “new modernisms” crowd. The course incorporates work from the big names – Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster – and from a less literarily influential (though very popularly influential) and perhaps equally interesting writer: Vita Sackville-West. Some discussion of the visual and plastic arts is also incorporated into the course. Reading beyond the text list in the relevant material and related texts from the period is much encouraged (the material is, basically, stunning in its showcasing of artistic skill). Where possible, you’ll access relevant supporting material, including films, through the wonderful UBC Library.

This online English 366 emphasizes full-on literary analysis and models the academic paper production process. Ideally, you will work towards producing something you could present at one of the many undergraduate conferences (or submit to an undergrad journal like The Garden Statuary). English 366 offers upper-level credits to students taking an English Major and to those in the Honours program; it offers 3 upper-level Literature credits for the Arts requirement; and it also offers a good choice (as an elective) for senior students in other programmes and faculties. Teachers updating their qualifications will also find the course of real use.


Students must have completed 6 credits of first-year English courses or the equivalent, and have achieved third-year standing to enroll in this course. Please note this is a 4th year course and is designed and graded as such.

Structure of the Course

  • Module 1: Victorians and Transitions
  • Module 2: Modernist Historiography and Connections
  • Module 3: D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love
  • Module 4: E. M. Forster, A Passage to India
  • Module 5: Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
  • Module 6: Vita Sackville-West: Seducers in Ecuador
  • Module 7: Modernism’s Legacy: Orlando, TThen and (Possibly) Now
  • Optional Module: Mythopoesis: James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Required Reading Materials

Students must purchase/acquire these few physical texts, in these specific editions (available through UBC Bookstore):

  • D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke (Ed.) Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 2nd Ed. Broadview Press, 1999.
  • D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love. Oxford Paperbacks. 2008.
  • E.M. Forster, Passage to India. Penguin Classics. 2005.
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse. Broadview Press. 2000.

The other course texts and the associated criticism will be available for free to you in the form of course PDFs, direct streaming provided by CTLT, or articles available through the UBC library.

ENGL366 Textbook Order Form