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2010/1 Module Catalogue
 Module Code: ELI2007 Module Title: CLASSIC REALISM AND ITS DECAY
Module Provider: English Short Name: ELI2007
Level: HE2 Module Co-ordinator: BARTA PI Prof (English)
Number of credits: 20 Number of ECTS credits: 10
Module Availability
Semester 1
Assessment Pattern

Assessment Pattern

Unit(s) of Assessment

Weighting Towards Module Mark( %)

a critical paper on a literary text from the list of RECOMMENDED readings (below) not discussed in class (2500 words)


Class presentation






Module Overview

The module begins by engaging with the concept of literary representation and the concept of “reality” and realism in nineteenth century European prose and drama.  Students will become familiar with theoretical thinking about narrative and  reading practices.  As classic realism aims to represent society, students will assess how successful it is in doing so and why in the works of the greatest realist writers (Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy) the “decay” of realism is already present.  The module will look at the gradual loss of faith in the omniscience of the narrator, closure and the temporal-causal construction of plots and the appearance of inward turning, the fragmentation of the narrating voice and innovative use of language to mediate the reactions to the world of  the conscious and the uncosncious levels of the mind.  Texts by Ibsen,   Henry James, James Joyce and Pirandello will be considered to observe this process



The assessment is intended to develop students' skills through continuous work and to ensure that they have a good grasp of the issues and texts discussed in the module.  The ciritcal paper will sharpen their skills in close reading and will give them the opportunity to develop their thoughts about the new concepts they have learnt.  It will also enable them to be original as they will be writing on literary works not discussed in class.  The oral presentations will be in teams and they will be linked to class discussion.  Each student will need to choose a portfolio within the presentation and send a written draft to the instructor for feedback ahead of the presentation.  The final exam will assess knowledge of the literary works assigned and new concepts discussed in class.

Module Aims

The Module aims to:


introduce students to prominent Realist and Modernist writers


develop an understanding of literary movements and themes unlimited by a focus on a national literature


introduce skills in close reading via a focus on specific texts


develop students’ ability to produce argumentative, expository writing


develop skills in team work and in oral presentation

Learning Outcomes

By the end of  module students will have:



develop sensitivity  about narrative techniques and practices of interpretation


understand the reasons behind the move away from conventionality in literature at the end of the 19th and beginningof the 20th century


assess the different forms of effectiveness in the novel, the short story and drama.


Module Content

Topics for each week are the focus for both lectures and seminars.


Week 1

How does literature represent?  Discussion of conventional and literary understanding of the term “realism”.  Western society and the novel.  The links between realism and scientific empiricism. The position of the writer in society.


Week 2 

Dickens’ Great Expectations.  The Bildungsroman and classic capitalism.  The theme of moving from country to city—from innocence to experience.  The place of the narrator within the novel’s consciousness.  Problems of ending—the crisis of classical closure. 


Week 3-4

Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.  The crisis of an Enlightenment-based epistemology; social institutions versus individual happiness.  The theme of suicide; how does the narrative represent the female protagonist.


Weeks 5 and 6 

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  Psychological realism, the position of the author and the narrator.  The appearance of the stream of consciousness.  The handling of a large number of plots within the same text.  Modernity, positivism and the city versus patriarchy, tradition and the country. 


Week 7

Ibsen’s Ghosts.  The rise of modern theatre on the fringes of Europe .  The dramatic representation of the socially unacceptable, a fresh view on marriage, family, sex and the plight of women in bourgeois society.  Modernist drama for new themes.


Weeks 8

James’ The Wings of the Dove.  The shifting perspective and  psychologically  inspired narrative techniques: the inner and outer worlds of characters; the difference between the construction of James’ novel and those of Dickens and Flaubert.  How does the cityscape begin to “melt”.


Week 9

Joyce’s “The Dead”; the foregrounding of textuality (style, language, syntax) and the emergence of the literary epiphany; the loosening of the boundary between poetry and prose.  The theme of the failure of communication (cf. Chekhov, Tolstoy , Williams)


Week 10-11

Pirandello Six Characters in Search of an Author.  The baring of the device and the challenge of the reader/audience to enforce an estranged viewpoint for seeing the familiar as strange.  Discussion about the evolution of plots, textual figures of authority and characters with the rise of “writable” rather than “readable” literature.  The lecture will be available on Ulearn. 


Week 12



Week 13



Week 14



Week 15

Reading Week


Assessment deadlines


Critical paper:  15 December 2010


Oral presentation:  Throughout module

Exam: tbc

Methods of Teaching/Learning

One lecture and one one-hour session each week; student presentations in teams


Selected Texts/Journals





Dickens Great Expectations


Flaubert Madame Bovary


Tolstoy Anna Karenina


Ibsen, Ghosts


James The Wings of the Dove


Joyce “The Dead”


Pirandello Six Characters in Search of an Author








Thackeray Vanity Fair


Stendhal The Red and the Black


Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment


O’Neill A Long Day’s Journey into Night


Chekhov Uncle Vanya


James The Ambassadors


Williams A Cat on the Hot Tin Roof


Joyce --any story from Dubliners other than “The Dead”





Secondary reading

Abbot, N. Porter. 2002.  The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (CUP).

Ayers, David. 2004. Modernism. A Short Introduction, London : Blackwell.

Bradbury, Malcolm and James Walter McFarlane. 1991.  Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930.  Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Egri, Peter. 1986. Chekhov and O’Neill. University of Oklahoma Press.

Durey, Jill Felicity. 1993. Realism and narrative modality: The Hero and Heroine in Eliot, Tolstoy and Flaubert.  Tubingen : Gunter Narr.


Johnsen, William A.  2003.  Violence and Modernism: Ibsen, Joyce and Woolf. Gainesville: University Press of Florida .

Kearns, Katherine. 1996. Nineteenth-Century Literary Realism: Through the Looking Glass. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krasner, David. 2005.  A Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama, London :  Blackwell Publisher

Parsons, Deborah. 2007.  Theorists of the Modernist Novel. London : Routledge.

Stanton, Sarah and Martin Benham. 1996.  The Cambridge Paperback Guide to Theatre, Cambridge : CUP.

Walder, Dennis (ed). 1993. The Realist Novel, London : Routledge

Shiach, Morag. 2007.  The Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel, Cambridge : CUP

Unwin, Stephen and Michael Pennington. 2004.  A Pocket Guide to Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg, London : Faber and Faber.

Last Updated

5 July 2010 JG