Some Big Picture Queries

  1. What is Britishness and how does it change or amalgamate over time? How do notions of Nation, Nationalism, and duty inform our comprehension of Britishness?
  2. What impact does Empire and Imperialism still have on our readings of British Literature? What implicit ideologies must we make ourselves aware?
  3. How do attitudes about and constructions of femininity and masculinity feature in the works we read? How do they change or stay the same across the decades?
  4. How does literary style change and what informs those changes?
  5. What themes/political issues/social concerns persist across the literature we read this semester? What becomes less important, de-emphasized? What becomes more vital?
  6. What needs to happen within the critical conversations (scholarly debates) to widen our understanding and interpretations of these works, especially those for which there is little critical attention?

Feel free to use these questions as starting points for your thinking about the content. You may use these questions to springboard your posts, response papers, and projects. You may also add to this list by contributing more questions and comments to this post, and I hope you will.

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READ ME! Welcome to ENG 629: 20th Century British Literature

In response to a request for financial donations to war efforts during the Spanish Civil War, Virginia Woolf once wrote, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world” (Three Guineas, 1938). In this statement, she somewhat obliquely, yet powerfully, speaks to the notion that nation-building and empire formation is the work of great and powerful men. As a woman, she has no say in war efforts or prevention because she has no authority. As a woman, her money belongs to her husband or her father, and she cannot willfully donate it without their consent. Her audience, here, is not only to women, but the disenfranchised at large and for whom prevailing ideologies can be damaging.

We begin with Woolf’s statement because this course asks you to delve deep into questions about what alternative narratives might emerge if we are always aware that the dominant (hegemonic) narratives drive cultural and historical production and formation. How might we come to understand a fuller picture of the effects of World War I if we read not only texts from the solider poets, but also from the women at home? What will we see differently if we think about fascism through the lens of feminist speculative fiction? How might we reconsider our expectations about women’s duties during World War II, if we read a middlebrow novel written from the perspective of a young and bored mother, pairing it with war posters of the period? What will we learn about the myth of Mother England and being British by reading immigrant narratives from the post-Windrush generations who faced deep tensions and violence because of their origins (nations formerly of the Empire)?

Through looking carefully at the myriad experiences of 20th century Britishness through texts that deeply challenge embedded notions of nation, race, class, gender, and age, among other identity categories, we will broaden our comprehension of significant moments in British history by looking at them from unexpected, non-dominant perspectives. And, while this all sounds very serious, we will also question why our own pop culture is so infused with Anglophilia from Downton Abbey to Call the Midwife to Doctor Who. Most of the texts we will read this semester are non-“canonical” and many are by understudied women writers. Thus, you’ll have the opportunity to widen your exposure to alternative narratives and experiences. As this is a graduate seminar, the course is discussion-based and student-content driven. That means you hold an integral part of generating the specific conversations about the texts that contribute to the interpretations we develop as a learning community.

This blog will serve as an integral space for you to develop your idea beyond the class discussions. Your weekly posts will enhance not only your exploration of the material, but your colleagues’ as well. By reading and responding to each other in the digital space, you’ll grow as thinkers and as writers, to be sure; but most importantly, you’ll hone your awareness of audience and ability to note credit where credit is due. For example, the photo I’ve chosen to highlight this post is a digital image of a postcard from 1927, photographed by Clifton R. Adams. We’ll talk about how to credit sources online more as we begin to blog.

The blog’s primary content will be your posts, and they’ll appear on our home page as you generate them. You can also find a “living” schedule of material for each class meeting, the syllabus, and my contact information on pages listed at the top of the interface.

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