BA English Language and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
British Fiction and Empire in the Twentieth Century  

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL32551
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module starts from the premise that to write fiction about Britain in the twentieth century was also to write about the Empire. Though critics after the Second World War often wanted to quickly declare colonialism to be in the past, the major and long popular texts addressed here tell a different story. The module foregrounds postcolonial approaches to fiction. Further, the treatment of race and colonialism is shown often to have involved issues of gender and sexuality. Looking at both shorter and long forms of fiction, the module also explores the relationship between formal innovation and colonialism. 


The aims of this course are: 

- to introduce students to key literature texts and issues from twentieth century Britain on the theme of colonialism; 

- to introduce students to the analysis of empire and postcolonial fiction;  

- to consider the formal and thematic innovations made by fiction writers.  

- to analyse the ways in which these  texts interact with their cultural and historical contexts; 

- to consider race, and also such issues as gender and sexuality, in relation to the literature and culture of this period; 

- to engage with selected critical writings on fiction and empire in the twentieth century; 

- to develop skills of critical thought, speech, and writing.  

Teaching and learning methods

The class will have a 1 hour lecture, and a 2 hour seminar. 

To support student learning and engagement there will be a Blackboard site with further reading and lecture slides etc for each teaching week. 

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course, students should be able to: 

- demonstrate a good familiarity with a range of fiction and their contexts relating to writing and Empire in the twentieth century; 

- demonstrate a critical understanding of writing in relation to Empire; 

- apply postcolonial approaches to literary texts 

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course, students should be able to: 

- identify and outline key problems and issues in British fiction and Empire of the twentieth century; 

- reflect critically on fiction of the period discussed; 

- evaluate critical arguments advanced by critics on writers, especially from a postcolonial perspective.  

Practical skills

- make good use of library, electronic, and online resources pertaining to the course; 

- speak and write clearly about British fiction and Empire in the period of the module.  

Transferable skills and personal qualities

- retrieve, sift, organise, synthesise and critically evaluate material from a range of different sources, including library, electronic, and online resources; 

- produce written work using appropriate language for an academic audience;  

- demonstrate the ability to improve one’s own learning through critical reflection, evaluation, good time management. 


Employability skills

This course enhances student employability by giving students a range of transferable skills. These include: logical thought; good oral and written communication skills, resourcefulness in the ability to gather, interpret, analyse and/or evaluate critical sources; time management skills; articulacy and presentation skills through seminar discussion/debate. This course enhances employability by encouraging students and identify and understand a range of different viewpoints and/or critical approaches to Britain and Empire in the twentieth century.

Assessment methods

Assessment task  

Weighting within unit (if summative) 

Coursework essay 


48 hour online exam 


Feedback methods

Feedback method 

Formative or Summative 

Coursework essay: Numerical grade and written comments on essay within 15 working days (as defined by Faculty). Available to discuss feedback in office hours. 

Formative and summative 

Online examination: Numerical grades and written feedback summary on examination responses 


Recommended reading

Howard J. Booth and Nigel Rigby, eds., Modernism and Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).  

Jed Esty, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003) 

John McLeod, Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis (London: Routledge, 2004) 

Graham MacPhee, Postwar British Literature and Postcolonial Studies (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011). 

Len Platt, ed., Modernism and Race (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 

Matthew Whittle, Post-War British Literature and the ‘End of Empire’ (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) 

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Howard Booth Unit coordinator

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