BA English Literature and American Studies

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Gendered Experiments: Women's Innovative Writing in the Twentieth Century

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL33061
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course provides students with an overview of innovative and experimental writing by women in the twentieth century – and beyond. The texts studied allow for a consideration of various kinds of formal, linguistic, generic, thematic and material experiment, and for discussions of diverse literary categories, practices and movements, such as modernism, postmodernism, multimodality, cut-up, lipogrammatic writing and the nouveau roman. Accompanying critical material will facilitate a discussion of the various avant-gardes of the twentieth century (such as Dada, Surrealism, and the Oulipo group), and their contextual and cultural significance.  

 Over the course of the semester, we will: assess the uses of experimental techniques for women writers in the twentieth century; discuss questions of authority, originality and difficulty; consider the treatment of topics such as sexuality and the body in the work of women experimentalists; and reflect more generally on the relationship between the aesthetic and the (gender) political.


As optional extras, there will be a screening of the Woolf Works ballet production (in week 2), a trip to the John Rylands Library to look at correspondence and manuscripts by Christine Brooke-Rose (in week 8), and a workshop on cut-up and collage (in week 11). 



• To consider the range and diversity of experimental and innovative works produced by women authors in the twentieth century.
• To perform textual analyses of diverse genres, styles, and modes of literature in relation to questions of literary experiment, questions of gender and women’s writing, and constructions of avant-gardism.
• To set these analyses in the broader contexts of twentieth century avant-gardism, i.e. in relation to particular movements and developments within and beyond the literary scene.
• To consider the gender politics of experiment, i.e. the uses of experimental practices by and for women authors, the critical reception of experimental works by women, and the broader relations between radical politics and a radical aesthetic.
• To discuss questions of authority, originality, difficulty and the radical and/or marginal in relation to the selected texts.
• To develop students’ skills of written and verbal expression and their production of coherent, reasoned arguments, at a level appropriate to work that will form part of the assessment for the module.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:
• Discuss and compare different styles, genres and modes of writing with particular attention to questions of language and form.
• Identify a variety of experimental techniques in literary texts of the period and assess their effects and significance.
• Debate questions of gender politics, literary history, reception, and literary innovation.
• Outline and evaluate critical arguments pertaining to these topics and questions.
• Distinguish between different movements, periods and groups associated with literary and other forms of artistic experimentalism in the course of the twentieth century.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:
• Demonstrate a sound knowledge of different movements and categories of literature (such as modernism, postmodernism, multimodality, the nouveau roman, etc) across the span of the twentieth century.
• Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the historical and critical contexts in which women’s experimental writing has been produced and to which it speaks.
• Demonstrate a sound critical understanding of different techniques of literary experiment and of key concepts associated with this topic.
• Demonstrate a clear critical understanding of the key questions of gender politics attending any assessment of women’s experimental literature, its production and reception.
• Demonstrate a sound knowledge of the critical and scholarly reception of women’s experimental writing in the period under consideration, and a sound understanding of the significance of this reception.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:
• Do close analyses of experimental and innovative texts, i.e. work with quite challenging and difficult material, attending to technical questions of form and language.
• Demonstrate an ability to make use of relevant theoretical, literary critical and political material in their analysis of the chosen texts.
• Reflect critically on literary and theoretical material associated or concerned with experimentalism.
• Make reasoned, substantiated arguments for a particular point of view.
• Work with a developed critical and conceptual vocabulary appropriate to the subject matter and level of the module.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:
• Access and make use of relevant library and online resources (including databases such as the MLA) to find critical and contextual material of an appropriate scholarly quality, for the purposes of class discussion and assessment.
• Plan and conduct independent research.
• Demonstrate more effective time-management and forward planning skills.
• Follow referencing and style guidelines in order to present their work in a professional and scholarly manner.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:
• Write lucid prose in which they communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively.
• Work independently, showing self-motivation, forward planning and personal/professional organisation.
• Work effectively with others – e.g. in seminar discussions – developing interpersonal skills of listening, discussion and negotiation.
• Demonstrate enhanced time-management skills in the preparation and delivery of assessment tasks.
• Plan and implement a research project – the coursework essay.


Employability skills

Analytical skills
The course unit will develop skills in effective time-management; independent thinking and working; self-motivation; as well as skills of argument, analysis and reasoning.
Oral communication
In encouraging students to do independent research and develop novel and well-substantiated lines of argument in work that is correctly presented and referenced, the module will also serve as excellent preparation for postgraduate study in the arts and humanities field, or for other forms of research in the arts/media realm.
Written communication
In broadening students' knowledge of modern and contemporary literary history and practice, the module will also be useful preparation for employment in the cultural and creative industries, e.g. publishing or the media.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Written assignment (inc essay) 70%

Close Reading Exercise

Feedback methods

• Written feedback on close-reading exercise and essay
• Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage Vol I: Pointed Roofs (1915)  

Virginia Woolf, The Waves (1931) 
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936) 
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons (1914), ‘Objects’ 
Anna Kavan, Sleep Has His House (1948) 

Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha (1953) 
Ann Quin, Berg (1964) 

Christine Brooke-Rose, Between (1968) [Excerpts] 
Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat (1970) 

Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) 

Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School (1984) 

Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (2004) 
Excerpts from Bhanu Kapil, Ban en Banlieue (2015)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kaye Mitchell Unit coordinator

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