Alternative Worlds in Contemporary British Fiction

Course title: Alternative Worlds in Contemporary British Fiction
Instructor: Assoc. Prof. Iva Polak
ECTS credits: 6
Language: English
Semester 3 or 5

Status: elective
Enrolment requirements: completed Introduction to English Lit/Introduction to English Lit 1 and 2
Course description: The course focuses on the establishment of a different literary canon following WW2 in the UK, which is embedded in various genres of the fantastic. Ranging from primarily male dystopian SF fiction, feminist SF fiction to fantasy and magical realism coming from former colonial subjects and new regional voices in the UK, selected texts raise the issue of the construction of new contemporary identities and realities of the UK through the vehicle of fantasy. The aim is to cover a whole spectrum of gendered, transcultural and regional voices present in the last 60 years in British fiction. The course also includes discussions on a range of cinematic adaptations accompanying selected texts.
Objectives: Widening awareness of some of the most recent trends in British fiction and learning the basic postulates of literary fantasy.
Course requirements: The final grade is based on continuous assessment which includes regular attendance (max. 4 unattended classes), preparation for and participation in class, writing small assignments, timely submission of the final paper, and obligatory sitting for midterm and endterm exam. The paper is worth 35%, midterm and endterm exams are worth 50% and other elements of continuous assessment are worth 15% of the final grade. Students must meet all requirements of continuous assessment.

The exact date of the mid-term exam is defined in cooperation with the students. Topics for the  main written assignment (student paper) are selected in week 8.

Week by week schedule
Post-WW2 socio-historical context in the UK: literary reaction to the post-WW2 years; a decade after “Angry Young Men”; dystopian reaction; feminist novel after V. Woolf (second wave feminism, postfeminism); gendered novel; novel and the end of the Empire; regional voices; the notion of belonging and trans/national identity

Historical development of literary utopia/dystopia (Republic; Utopia; New Atlantis; Gulliver’s Travels); utopian/dystopian SF novel (Brave New World; We)

Michel Foucault. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias”
Peter Fitting. “A Short History of Utopian Studies”

George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) (dystopia; mind-control)
Patrick Parrinder. Nation & Novel, pp. 314-320 (on Orwell)

Adam Roberts. Science Fiction: Chapter 1: “Defining science fiction”
Darko Suvin. “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre”

Nineteen Eighty-Four cont.
Nineteen Eighty-Four. (1984) dir. Michael Radford, and Brazil (1985) dir. Terry Gilliam

Adam Roberts. Science Fiction: Chapter 5: “Technology and Metaphor”
Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange (1962); (dystopia; violence)

A Clockwork Orange (1971) dir. Stanley Kubrick
*Guidelines for writing research paper
Feminism and SF (historical survey of the genre: Mary Shelley, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, Margaret Atwood; woman as the saviour of the universe; androphobia; androgyny)
Adam Roberts. Science Fiction: Chapter 3: “Gender”
Jeanette Winterson. The.PowerBook (2000): metafiction; gendered narrator

Brian McHale. Postmodernist Fiction: Chap. “Chinese-box worlds”
Magical realism genre theory
Wendy B. Faris. “Scheherezade’s Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction.”

Angela Carter. Nights at the Circus (1984): postmodernism, metafiction, feminism, Victorian Period and “side-shows” (freak shows); Freaks (1932) dir. Ted Browning.

Brian Finney. Ch. 9 “Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus” in English Fiction since 1984: Narrating a Nation.
Nights at the Circus cont.

The most distinct regional voice: Scottish “New Wave” (Gray, Kennedy, Kelman…)

Alasdair Gray. “Wellbeing: A Fiction” in Why Scots Should Rule Scotland (1997): postmodernism, fantasy, Scottish identity
Richard Bradword. Ch.10 “Scotland” in The Novel Now. Contemporary British Fiction.

Endterm exam

Reading list:
George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange (1962)

Jeanette Winterson. The.PowerBook (2000)
Angela Carter. Nights at the Circus (1984)
Alasdair Gray. “Wellbeing: A Fiction” in Why Scots Should Rule Scotland (1997)

Critical editions:
– Bowers, Maggie Ann. Magic(al) Realism. Routledge: NY. 2004.
– Bradford, Richard. The Novel Now. Contemporary British Fiction. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, 2007: Ch. 10.
– Faris, Wendy B. “Scheherezade’s Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction.” Magical Realism Theory, History, Community, Lois Parkinson Zamora i Wendy B. Faris (eds). Duke University Press: Durham & London. 2005 (1995): 163-190.
– Finney Brian. English Fiction Since 1984: Narrating a Nation. Palgrave: NY, 2006: Ch. 9.
– Fitting, Peter. “A Short History of Utopian Studies”. Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2009: 121-131.
– Head, Dominic. Modern British Fiction, 1950-2000. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2002.
– McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction, Routledge: London/NY, 2004 (1987): Chap. 8.
– Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias”, 1967.
– Parrinder, Patrick. Nation & Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 (selection on Orwell)
– Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction. 2nd ed, Routledge: London/New York, 2006: Ch. 1 and 3
– Suvin, Darko. “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre.” College English, Vol. 34, No. 3, 1972: 372-382.

All textual and audiovisual materials are provided in electronic format.