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2010/1 Module Catalogue
 Module Code: ELI3016 Module Title: THE THEATRE AND THE NOVEL
Module Provider: English Short Name: ELI3016
Level: HE3 Module Co-ordinator: WYNNE-DAVIES M Prof (English)
Number of credits: 20 Number of ECTS credits: 10
Module Availability
Semester 2
Assessment Pattern

Unit(s) of Assessment


Weighting Towards Module Mark( %)


Essay (4000 words)




Module Overview

This module explores the relationship between the fiction and the theatre by tracking modulating attitudes to performance in novels from the 1830s to twenty-first century. In representing theatres and actors of various kinds these novelists ask significant questions about identity, morality, pleasure and authenticity. The frequent alignment of the theatre with the grotesque, the gothic, the comic, or the sexually transgressive allows this module to draw links between a diverse range of texts from Charles Dickens to Sarah Waters.


Module Aims

The module aims to develop knowledge in:


  • The use of the theatre as a literary metaphor


  • The attitude of literature to the theatre and performance


  • The treatment of acting and actors in a selection of 19th, 20th and 21st-century texts.



The module aims to develop skills in:


  • Communication skills(through seminar participation and essay writing)


  • Discursive skills (through essay writing)


  • Analytical skills (close analysis of a selection of texts in class and in essay)
Learning Outcomes

Module outcomes:


  • Develop a critical appreciation of the use of the theatre and other performance spaces in nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first-century literature


  • Develop a familiarity with related critical terms, such as performativity.


  • Apply critical knowledge when discussing texts in seminar


  • Analyse two texts in the context of the module themes in an essay
Module Content

Section 1: Victorian Theatres


Week 1: Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1839), Chapters 22-25, 30.


Dickens’ second novel demonstrates the theatrical qualities and resonances of his fiction. In this comic section of the novel the protagonist finds himself amongst an array of theatrical types whose exaggerated energies spill off the stage and allow Dickens to utilise the mock-heroic and carnivaleseque to bring into relief his protagonist’s more serious difficulties.


Week 2: Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853)


Acting takes on important philosophical and psychological significance in Bronte’s intense representation of her governess protagonist. Lucy Snowe is both actress and viewer (or even voyeur) and ideas about the stage also provide ways of imagining other kinds of female professionalism and agency. 



Week 3: Henry James, The Tragic Muse (1890)


This novel displays all of the characteristics of James working at the height of his powers. He elaborates the psychological conflicts inherent in seeing the theatre both as a space of artistic creativity and as a breeding ground for deceit and dangerous sexuality. Moving between Paris and London the text asks its readers to consider the porous boundaries between acting and being.



Week 4: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)


This fin de siècle novel examines aestheticism and decadence and demonstrates how performance is integral to the character of the dandy. Artificiality, for the dandy, seems a quality more pleasing than authenticity. The plot’s representations of the actress in the popular theatre work alongside its fantastical and gothic interrogate the moral functions of art.



Section 2: Modern Performances


Week 5: Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (1941)


Woolf’s novel considers the ways in which we see ‘history’ as a type of theatre or as a series of vignettes. The pageant that takes place in the country house addresses the creation of meaning through fragments, scenes and allusions (something reflected in the allusive and fragmented prose style). The performance also functions both to express national identity and to mock at ’s imperial concerns in the lead up to the Second World War.



Week 6: Mikhail Bulgakov, A Dead Man’s Memoir: A Theatrical Novel (1965)


This novel bitterly and comically expresses the anxiety surrounding an author’s loss of control over his work in its theatrical adaptation.  The implicit fears expressed also concern the commodification of authorship itself. Here the theatre becomes a machine in which meaning is destroyed rather than created.



Section 3: Hollywood theatricality


Week 7: Nathanel West, The Day of the Locust  (1939)


An excursion from theatre per se to the movie-making industry. With its set designer protagonist, West’s novel suggests that Hollywood itself is no more than an elaborate stage set. But the book also graphically contemplates the capacity of sexual desire and violence to puncture pretence. The effects of technology on creativity and agency are explored to disturbing effect.



Section 4: Bodies in Performance


Week 8: Don DeLillo, The Body Artist (2001)


When language seems to fail in the face of grief, Lauren, the body artist, creates a performance that goes beyond words to re-constitute the self. The technological and repetitive nature of Lauren’s postmodern existence seems to leach away agency but also to structure both time and space. By the end of this text we see the stage as a space in which slippage between identities and bodies can occur.



Section 5: Revisiting the Victorian theatre


Week 9: Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus (1984)


This text exists in complex relation to the concerns of feminism and postmodernism in its comic pondering of the functions of time, the pliability of gender, and the possibilities of representation. The celebrity performer ‘Fevvers’ animates these concerns. The reader is asked to consider the suspension of disbelief in the performance space and, indeed, what belief might mean in a secular world.



Easter Vacation




Week 10: Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet (1998)


This neo-Victorian novel provides a fitting finish to the course by connecting up several of the thematic concerns seen in previous texts. Here the stage is a space for the transgression of gender boundaries and the enactment of illicit desires. The more theoretical concerns seen throughout the module are brought to bear here also: the difficulties of representing the past, the relationships between the private, pleasurable, public and professional, and the authentic or performative nature of the self.



Week 11: Module Review



Week 12





Week 13





Week 14





Week 15





Assessment deadlines


Essay: 1st June 2011


Methods of Teaching/Learning
Weekly lecture and seminar
Selected Texts/Journals

Essential Reading



Brontë, Charlotte (2000), Villette. Oxford : OUP


Bulgakov, Mikhail (2007), A Dead Man’s Memoir: A Theatrical Novel. London : Penguin


Carter, Angela (1998), Nights at the Circus. London : Vintage.


DeLillo, Don (2001), The Body Artist. London : Picador.


Dickens, Charles (2003), Nicholas Nickleby. London : Penguin. Chapters 22-25, 30.


James, Henry (1995), The Tragic Muse. London : Penguin.


Waters, Sarah (1998), Tipping the Velvet. London : Virago.


Wilde, Oscar (2008), The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford : OUP.


Woolf, Virginia (2008), Between the Acts. Oxford OUP.


West,, Nathaniel (2000) The Day of the Locust in The Day of the Locust and The Dream Life of Balso Snell. London : Penguin.


Secondary Reading


Ames , Christopher, ‘Carnivalesque Comedy in Between the Acts’, Twentieth-Century Literature 44 (1998), pp. 394-408


Auerbach, Nina (1990), Private Theatricals: The Lives of the Victorians. Cambridge MA . and London: Harvard University Press.


Barnard, Rita, ‘"When You Wish Upon a Star": Fantasy, Experience, and Mass Culture in Nathanael West’, American Literature, 66 (1994), pp. 325-351


Barish, Jonas (1981), The Antitheatrical Prejudice. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Booth, Michael (1991), Theatre in the Victorian Age. Cambridge : CUP.


Bowen, John (2000), Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Oxford : OUP.


Boxall. Peter (2006), Don DeLillo: the possibility of fiction. London : Routledge.


Bratton, Jacky, ed. (1986) .Music Hall: Performance and Style. Milton Keynes : Open UP.


Brooker, Peter (1992), Modernism/ Postmodernism. London : Longman.


Brooks, Peter (1976), The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. New Haven : Yale UP.


- (1993) Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative. Cambridge MA.: Harvard UP.


Butler , Christopher (2002) Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford : OUP


Butler , Judith (1990), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London : Routledge.


(1993), Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. London : Routledge


Case, Sue-Ellen, ed. (1990), Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. Baltimore and London : John Hopkins UP.


Carroll, Rachel, Return of the Century: Time, Modernity, and the End of History in Angela Carter's 'Nights at the Circus', The Yearbook of English Studies, 30 (2000), pp. 187-201


Davis, Tracy C. (1991), Actresses as Working Women: Their Social Identity in Victorian Culture. London : Routledge,


(2008) The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies. Cambridge : CUP.


DiPrete, L., ‘‘Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist: Performing the Body, Narrating Trauma’’, Contemporary Literature 46 (2005), pp. 483–510.


Duvall, John (2008), The Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo. Cambridge : CUP.


Farfan, Penny (2004), Women, Modernism and Performance. Cambridge : CUP.


Freedman, Jonathan (1998), The Cambridge Companion to Henry James. Cambridge : CUP.


Gale, Maggie and John Stokes, ed. (2007), The Cambridge Companion to the Actress. Cambridge : CUP


Garelick, Rhonda K. (1998), Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender and Performance in the Fin de Siecle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.


Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar (1979, 2000), The Madwoman in the Attic: the woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination. New Haven : Yale UP


Glen, Heather, ed. (2002), The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës. Cambridge : CUP.


Gutleben, Christian (2001), Nostalgic Postmodernism: The Victorian Tradition and the Contemporary British Novel. Amsterdam & New York : Rodopi.


Guy Josephine and Ian Small (2000), Oscar Wilde’s Profession: Writing and the Culture Industry in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford : OUP.


Hutcheon, Linda (1996), A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. London : Routledge.


Innes, Christopher (1992), Modern British Drama, 1890-1990. Cambridge : CUP.


Jordan, John O., ed. (2001), The Cambridge Companion to Dickens. Cambridge : CUP.


Kaplan, Cora (2007), Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP.


King, Jeanette (2005), The Victorian Woman Question in Contemporary Feminist Fiction. Basingstoke : Palgrave.


Kohlke, M.-L. ‘Into History through the Back Door: The “Past Historic” in Nights at the Circus and Affinity’, Women, 15:2 (2004), pp. 153-166.


Litvak Joseph (1982), Caught in the Act: Theatricality in the Nineteenth Century English Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Luckhurst, Mary and Jane Moody, eds., (2005), Theatre and Celebrity in 1660–2000, Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.


MacKay, Carol Hanbery, ed, (1989), Dramatic Dickens. Basingstoke : Macmillan


Marshall, Gail (1998), Actresses on the Victorian Stage: Feminine Performance and The Galatea Myth. Cambridge : CUP.


Maynard, John (1984), Charlotte Bronte and Victorian Sexuality. Cambridge : CUP.


Meisel, Martin (1983), Realizations: narrative, pictorial, and theatrical arts in nineteenth-century . Princeton: Princeton UP.


Parker, Andrew and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, eds. (1995), Performativity and Performance. New York : Routledge.


Powell, Kerry (1990), Oscar Wilde and the Theatre of the 1890s. Cambridge : CUP.


Pullen, Kirsty (2005), Actresses and Whores: On Stage and in Society. Cambridge : CUP.


Raby, Peter (1997), The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Cambridge : CUP


Rhodes, Chip (2008), Politics, Desire, and the Hollywood Novel. Iowa City: U of Iowa P.


Sage, Lorna, ed. (1988, repr 2001), Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter. London : Virago.


Schlicke, Paul (1985), Dickens and Popular Entertainment. London: Allen & Unwin.


Shaw, Margaret, ‘Narrative Surveillance and Social Control in Villette’, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 34 (1994), pp. 813-33.


Showalter, Elaine (1991), Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the fin de siècle. New York : Viking.


Shuttleworth, Sally (1996), Charlotte Bronte and Victorian Psychology. Cambridge : CUP.


Wheare, Jane (1989), Virginia Woolf: Dramatic Novelist. London : Macmillan.


Vlock, Deborah (1998), Dickens, novel reading, and the Victorian popular theatre. Cambridge : CUP.


Voskuil, Lynn (2004), Acting Naturally: Victorian Theatricality and Authenticity. Charlottesville and London : U of Virginia P.


Last Updated
5 July 2010 JG