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Unit information: Anguish in Eden: Foundations of American Prose Writing in 2015/16

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Unit name Anguish in Eden: Foundations of American Prose Writing
Unit code MODL23011
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Brian Miller
Open unit status Open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The purpose of the unit is to familiarise students with the most important authors and foundational texts across a crucial period of American literature, covering prose fiction and some non-fiction only (not poetry or drama). The design of the unit is to approach American literature through the exploration of its most outstanding exponents with detailed examination of their principal works. The initial focus will be upon the three most outstanding fiction writers of the antebellum 'American Renaissance': Hawthorne, Poe and Melville, followed by examination of American literature's two most enduring prose authors of the later 19th century 'Gilded Age', the contrasting contemporaries Mark Twain and Henry James.


  • To introduce students to a significant body of knowledge of a complexity appropriate to second year level. The content matter will normally include one or more of the following: literature; social, cultural or political history; linguistics; cultural studies; film, television or other media.
  • To facilitate students' engagement with a body of literature, including secondary literature, texts, including in non-print media, primary sources and ideas as a basis for their own analysis and development. Normally many or most of these sources will be in a language other than English and will enhance the development of their linguistic skills.
  • To develop further skills of synthesis, analysis and independent research, building on the skills acquired in units at level C.
  • Some options may prepare students for the experience of the Year Abroad.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will:

  • be knowledgeable about a significant cultural, historical or linguistic subject related to the language they are studying;
  • be skilled in the selection and synthesis of relevant material;
  • be able to evaluate and analyse relevant material from a significant body of source materials, usually in a foreign language, at a high level;
  • be able to respond to questions or problems by presenting their independent judgements in an appropriate style and at an high level of complexity;
  • be able to transfer these skills to other working environments, including study at a foreign university and on work placements during the year abroad.

Teaching details

1 x 2hr slot weekly, normally consisting of a lecture followed by discussion.

Assessment Details

4000 word essay 85%, class test 15%

Reading and References

Set texts:

Students should focus on two or more of the following texts, which may involve purchase for deep study, or which otherwise are obtainable from library sources and free on-line literature web sites; portions of all texts mentioned - and others - will be discussed in seminar. (There will be two lecture-seminar sessions per author in this unit.)

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter and Selected Tales / The Blithedale Romance
  • Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Mystery and Imagination / Narrative of A Gordon Pym
  • Herman Melville: Moby-Dick / Benito Cereno / Billy Budd
  • Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn / A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court / Roughing It
  • Henry James: Portrait of a Lady / Turn of the Screw / What Maisie Knew