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The Sense of Stories - ENG00066H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Richard Walsh
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

Stories are everywhere in literature; in novels of course, but also in the drama, as well as in epic, sagas and other forms of narrative poetry, and even within the confines of the lyric. We are so familiar with the characteristic features of narrative that we take it for granted that this should be so. But why should this particular mode of discourse be so pervasive? On what basis has it made such a large claim upon our attention, throughout history and across cultures—and often in fictional form at that? This module takes a theoretical look at the nature of story, or narrative, as a way of meaning; it situates the subtle and elaborate manifestations of narrative in literature within a series of much larger contexts, ranging across disciplines and media, tracing the links between high-cultural instances of story and the fundamentals of how we think. We shall be concerned with both how we make sense of narratives, and how we use narrative as a way of making sense.

Our inquiry will focus upon theoretical readings as the primary texts of the module. These readings will isolate various aspects of narrative: its communicative and representational dimensions; its interdependence with notions of temporality and causality; its use of perspective; its relations to behaviour and to language; its emotional, informative, imaginative and fictive capacities. These explorations will be grounded in specific topics that foreground the question of narrative in an eclectic range of academic disciplines, such as philosophy, history, developmental psychology, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, robotics, computing; the topics will also examine narrative in relation to different media (film and the visual arts, music and dance, oral narrative, comics, theatre and interactive media). Throughout we shall draw upon our familiarity with narrative literature; but we shall also take the lessons of these encounters back to our theoretical understanding of literary narratives, in order to see them afresh.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are to introduce you to textual, cultural and cognitive senses of narrative, and to situate literary narrative in productive relation with other disciplines and narrative media; in doing so, it aims to give you an opportunity to extend the scope, and enhance the contextual relevance, of your literary studies.

Module learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with narrative concepts across a range of media and disciplinary contexts
  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the connections between narrative cognition and literary narrative
  • Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields of narrative theory
  • Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

  • You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000 word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000 word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.
  • You will submit your essay to a Google Folder. It will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks. Feedback on the essay will be uploaded to eVision.
  • Your summative essay is submitted via the VLE by 12noon on Monday of week 1 of the following term. Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to eVision to meet the University’s marking deadlines


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours  
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

The primary texts for this module will be theoretical readings from a range of narratologists, literary theorists, philosophers, psychologists and media theorists, including:

  • Aristotle
  • Brian Boyd
  • Jerome Bruner
  • Jonathan Culler
  • Hilary Dannenberg
  • Daniel Dennett
  • David Herman
  • Linda Hutcheon
  • Suzanne Keen
  • Susan Lanser
  • Scott McCloud
  • James Phelan
  • Marie-Laure Ryan
  • Mark Turner
  • Hayden White

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.