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English Literature MA

Mode Duration Start date
Full time 1 year September 2017
Part time 2 years September 2017

Choose Kingston's English Literature MA

This innovative course focuses on dissident writing and transgressive texts, from the early modern period to the present. Engaging with recent developments in theoretical and critical practice, the course will develop your knowledge and understanding of English literature and will sharpen your skills of literary research, writing and analysis.

Key features

  • This course enables you to become part of a vibrant postgraduate community and attend lectures and events organised by the London Graduate School and the Kingston Writing School.
  • Capitalising on our location, several modules are complemented by field trips (for example, to the British Library, museums and theatres) to enhance and support your learning experience.
  • The English department is home to two archives relating to the work of Iris Murdoch, as well as the Sheridan Morley archive of theatrical life writing and ephemera. It also contributes to the Cultural Histories and Suburban Studies at Kingston, the Life Narrative Research Group, the Iris Murdoch Centre and the Victorian Popular Fiction Association.

What will you study?

The core module, Transgression and Dissidence, introduces the course's central themes by focusing on texts that explore the limits of human experience and contravene cultural boundaries. You will explore how literature, through such transgression, has provided opportunities for dissent and resistance, and will consider the extent to which writing has acted as a catalyst for social and political change. You will then study various conceptual approaches to literature through your choice of option modules, which provide the opportunity to analyse and discuss a range of contentious issues across a number of historical periods and with respect to different genres.

The option modules involve the study of traumatic experience, human rights work and life narrative (Trauma and Justice); the complex relationships between desire, embodiment and writing (Sex and Text); gender, culture and international exchange in early modern Europe (Markets and Materiality); the construction of place and identity in 19th-century travel writing and adventure fiction (Mappings and Crossings); and the 'post-human' and interspecies interaction in recent global literature (Humans and Animals).

The MA programme has been devised to allow you to study diverse topics and periods or, if you prefer, to focus on areas in which the Department of English Literature has particular research strengths: Renaissance literature and culture; Victorian literature, 20th-century and contemporary writing; literature, sex and gender; and writing, space and the environment.

Your 15,000-word dissertation will allow you to research a subject of your choice, produced under the supervision of a specialist academic member of staff.


Essays and other written coursework, presentations, and dissertation.

Course structure

Please note that this is an indicative list of modules and is not intended as a definitive list.

Core modules

  • This is a core module for the MA in English. It consists of supervised independent research and writing and enables the student to conduct detailed and extensive research into a distinctive area of enquiry and to present that research in a dissertation of approximately 15,000 words.

  • The birth of modern literature is bloody, ill-tempered and violent in the flights of its newfound poetic imagination. Terror and sensation define the novel and degeneration underpins imperial encounters with modes of otherness it can neither conquer nor avoid. Modern challenges to conventions of form also spill over and disturb the bounds of experience, consciousness and good taste amid changing social mechanisms; later provocations – obscene and disturbing in terms of theme and content – assume a role in the vanguard of social and political liberations of consciousness, sexuality, and nation: democratic contestations and freedoms are found and founder in apparently darker literary impulses.

              This core module on the English Literature MA examines the transgressive potentiality of literature. It focuses on textual material that explores the limits of human experience, contravenes cultural boundaries and troubles established verities. It also asks how literature, through such transgressions, has provided opportunities for dissent and resistance, and considers the extent to which literature has thereby acted as a catalyst for social and political change. It interrogates a range of critical approaches to literature, transgression and dissent, and assesses the possibilities and limitations of various modes of dissident scholarship.

              Students will engage with five literary texts drawn from different periods and contexts (these might include a Renaissance drama, an eighteenth-century Gothic novel, a nineteenth century sensation novel; a twentieth-century postmodern novel; and a contemporary work of postcolonial fiction); each will be approached through a selection of critical materials that provide complimentary and competing frameworks for evaluating literary transgression and the scope literature offers for political and sexual dissidence. In so doing the module also introduces students to several of the thematic and theoretical preoccupations of the MA course’s optional and special studies modules.


Optional modules

  • This module consists of a transversal and diffractive exploration of creativity and its function in critical thought. Focusing on a range of issues pertinent to the exploration of intersectional identities, the module will engage students in the expression of their responses to questions of embodiment, materiality, space, borders and limits through a series of creative pieces and critical reflection. Through the production of work in a range of new and traditional media such as the visual arts, filmmaking, performance, and creative writing, students will examine how theoretical ideas spread outwards into creative practice, and the ways in which theory and practice intersect. Students will be involved in researching the notion of diffractive creativity, and will be introduced to definitions, cultural contexts and current research perspectives through a range of stimuli, critically examining these issues in relation to their own practice. This is accompanied by a range of practice-based methodologies including visual, sound and performance practices. Students will be encouraged to make links between creative processes through translating concepts across a range of different artistic fields, expanding their own conceptual and procedural understanding of embodiment and transversality.

  • This optional module problematizes the notion of ‘the human’ from a range of critical and philosophical standpoints. It asks whether technological developments, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality, have decentred our traditional understandings of consciousness, perception and embodiment, and if new political and social formations undermine any meaningful sense of shared human experience. It also interrogates the moral and epistemological bases for significant relationships between humans and other species, and asks what, if anything, humans can learn from non-human agents. These questions inform a critical engagement with a selection contemporary works of global literature.

  • This module examines the ways literature has helped to imagine, construct and reconceive spaces, places, and populations, from those at home and in the city, to ones of exploration and empire. The module approaches diverse literary material of the colonial period – from travel writing to adventure fiction – through theoretical frameworks derived from critical geography, postcolonial criticism and cultural studies. Key concepts such as the contact zone, transculturation, hybridity, mimicry, and borderland are examined and debated in order to develop a critical understanding of how literature maps territories, represents places, and transgresses spatial and subjective boundaries. The module also pays particular attention to how gender, race, class and national identity intersect and inform the ways in which writers engage with particular spaces.

  • This optional module in the MA course in English Literature studies early modern gender, culture and international exchange. You will explore cultural exchanges – of goods, styles, individuals, texts, artworks, and ideas – between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain and the Continent, with a special concentration on London’s emergence as a world capital. The module studies these international exchanges largely through the lives and works of early modern women and through male-authored works which comment upon women’s roles, for two reasons. First, although men’s and women’s experiences were similar, important differences in early modern culture placed women in a tense, symbolic relationship to foreign influences. This is especially true in England, where the island’s national and cultural insularity was often gendered as feminine, reflecting the reign of a female monarch throughout most of the sixteenth century. Secondly, women’s strategies for stepping beyond domestic boundaries to publish or circulate texts parallels the political and social strategies informing exchanges from one national or cultural context to another. Thus the period’s ‘traffic in women,’ to borrow Gayle Rubin’s familiar phrase, provides a concise metaphor for its traffic in goods and ideas.

  • Literature has a long history of representing the erotic, and of exploring, affirming and contesting ideas about the body. This optional module explores how modern writers have, from the late-nineteenth century to the present, engaged with moral, legal and scientific understandings of sexuality, and considers the impact of feminist criticism, queer theory and pornography studies upon how we think about the complex and often difficult relationship between sex and writing. You will critically examine provocative and formally challenging textual material in order to debate a range of contentious issues and themes, such as sexual morality and censorship, literary and journalist accounts of prostitution, the supposed distinctions between literature, erotica and pornography, the effects of new technologies on the representation of sexual desire, and utopian and radical visions of sex and society.

  • The explosion of suburban development is undoubtedly one of the greatest social changes to have taken place in twentieth-century America, to the extent that the USA today can with some justification be considered a suburban nation. Drawing on some of the recent pioneering work of Kingston University’s Centre for Suburban Studies, this Special Study module examines how the suburbs have been the object of endless fascination for American writers, from the Jazz Age to the recent financial crisis.

    The module explores how representations of suburban environments and lifestyles have captured central tensions within American society: about race relations and ethnic identity, gender roles and sexual deviance, the threat of nuclear war, and consumerism. At the same time, the module looks at how writers have sought to reimagine these seemingly banal environments as sites of wonder or as places with complex histories; close attention is paid to the formal innovations involved in telling new suburban stories. The module considers suburban fiction in relation to recent theoretical approaches to space, place and the everyday, and students will examine material drawn from a range of disciplines, including philosophy, geography and architectural studies.

    Students will read and discuss novels, plays and short stories from a variety of genres, for example, crime, science fiction, Gothic stories, and gay & lesbian narrative. Writers studied may include F. Scott Fitzgerald, James M. Cain, Lorraine Hansberry, Christopher Isherwood, Philip K. Dick, John Barth and Jhumpa Lahiri. Students will also consider examples of visual material depicting America’s suburbs, including clips from Hollywood films and sit-coms, public service announcements, cartoons strips, and documentary photography.

  • Not only a rock icon whose career has spanned over three decades, Bruce Springsteen has been the subject of study in college courses and academic symposia, and has received critical attention in collections of literary criticism, dissertations, and studies published by academic as well as trade presses. Moreover, his music and lyrics over the course of his career have responded to a variety of influences in 20th century literature, film, and culture, and have commented on many aspects of the political and social climates from which they emerged. This course will proceed through the Springsteen discography, treating his lyrics as poetry and reading his albums against a backdrop of his influences, on the one hand, and into critical responses to Springsteen’s work, on the other. Students will become familiar with the corpus of Springsteen’s recorded music and will be provided with the texts of his lyrics. The course will utilise a variety of media and documentary sources as well, in an effort to locate Springsteen’s work in relation to the major political, literary, and cultural trends and events in the US in the past thirty-five years.

  • This module will examine a range of familiar modern literary and cultural monsters, such as Frankenstein's creation, vampires, and zombies, from different theoretical perspectives and in historical, generic and medial contexts: it will explore the changing significance and function of monstrosity in relation to transformations in notions of humanity, otherness, the uncanny, horror and terror.

  • In this special study module, we examine the ways in which literary theory and philosophy has been shaped by musical influences. We will explore this music in recording, and supplement this with field trips to relevant music events, reading it alongside a range of theoretical essays, to ask questions about the dynamic ways in which music informs critical thinking. What, for example, is at the centre of Roland Barthes’ lyrical homage to the Romantic composer Robert Schumann? Why is it that Jean Luc-Nancy declares that ‘music accomplishes the philosophical erotic’? What was the special relationship between Edward Said and the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim? What connects Rosi Braidotti's work on drugs, sexual transgression, and the posthuman to Bach's Coffee Cantata?  What did Deleuze have to say about Boulez?  What did Adorno write about jazz?  What is the relationship between political philosophy and punk?  What is black metal theory? 


    In your assessments, you will write a critical essay exploring one or more of these questions, or one of your own choice. You will also complete a creative project which may be musical, but can also take any other creative form you wish.

  • This special study is a year-long optional module that allows an advanced, detailed and extensive study of plays from the late Elizabethan period to the closing of the theatres in 1642, including the works of Shakespeare. The module immerses students in a range of early modern English dramatic texts by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, This special study would focus on select plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, including Dekker, Middleton, Webster, Elizabeth Carey, and Marlowe, approaching these works through relevant secondary criticism and within the long history of critical approaches. We will consider these works in relation to early modern contexts such as carnival, travel, performance and the city, and through a lens provided by distinct critical approaches to early modern English drama, such as feminism, Marxism, new historicism, performance theory, and others. The Special Study will examine the major genres of early modern drama, from revenge tragedy to history to city comedy, and Shakespeare’s innovative treatment of contemporary genres in his ‘problem plays’ and late romances.  

  • This module will permit a detailed study of twentieth and twenty-first century British and American women writers working in a variety of genres.  Students will explore these texts thematically in relation to their specific and contrasting historical and social contexts, such as women’s suffrage, women and war, women and work, women and romance, the rise of feminism and women’s liberation, and second wave feminism. Students will also examine a wide range of pertinent theoretical and critical debates on gender and representation as well as specific preoccupations of selected writers.  Teaching of the module will take place in two hour seminars, complemented by extensive independent study on the part of the student.  The module will be assessed by a portfolio of work, comprising a long essay (5-6,000 words), a project, and an engagement exercise.

  • Personal testimonies and oral and textual representations of traumatic experience are the life force of human rights work, and rights claims have brought profound power to the practice of historical and autobiographically based writing. This module uses a range of approaches from a number of disciplines to explore the connections and conversations between human rights and the representation of familial and socio/historical traumatic experiences in writing. We will examine traumatogenic works by survivor-writers who are eyewitnesses to slavery, genocide, and forced displacement as well as those who have experienced personal, familial violence and rights abuse. We will also look at works by theorists of trauma and autobiographical writing, documentary filmmakers and human rights advocates making use of literary/critical, historical, psychological, and rights advocacy approaches in our discussions.

    The module will have four key sections sections—testimony, recognition, representation, and justice—evoking the key stages in turning experience into a human rights story. In doing so it attends to such diverse and varied arts as autobiography, documentary film, report, oral history, blog, and verbatim theater. It will begin by looking at moving personal accounts from those who have endured persecution, imprisonment, and torture; turn to meditations on experiences of injustice and protest by creative writers and filmmakers; and finally explore innovative research on ways that digital media, commodification, and geopolitics are shaping what is possible to hear and say.


You will have the opportunity to study a foreign language, free of charge, during your time at the University as part of the Kingston Language Scheme. Options currently include: Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

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This course is taught at Penrhyn Road

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