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Modernism's Queer Spaces - ENG00088H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Hannah Roche
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, it is tempting to look back upon the modernist period as a thoroughly gay old time. As Ezra Pound was calling upon his contemporaries to ‘Make it New’ – a slogan that, in Michael North’s words, has become ‘so ubiquitous as to have lost its trademark status, like Kleenex or the Xerox copy’ – writers on both sides of the Atlantic were finding exciting ways of subverting textual and sexual norms. But for all the thrills of the sapphic salons, the possibilities of new genres and genders, and narrative structures that refused to be ‘straight’, writers found themselves in a political and legal climate that was as restrictive as it was progressive. With the First World War having raised suspicion of all that was ‘other’, novels including D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow (1915) and Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) were banned under the outdated Obscene Publications Act of 1857. In an otherwise forward-thinking time of rapid scientific and technological advancement, writers and queer personalities were forced to seek covert or coded means of representation. To quote Gertrude Stein, ‘machine making does not turn out queer things like us, they can never make a world to let us be free’.

This module takes you on a tour of modernism’s most enticing queer spaces. From the dark alleyways of late-Victorian London (Jekyll and Hyde), we’ll go on to explore the salons of 1920s Paris (The Well of Loneliness), the jazz clubs of Harlem ('Smoke, Lilies and Jade'), seventeenth-century Constantinople (Orlando), and the bedroom of an Italian bartender where a betrothed American expatriate undergoes a ‘sea-change’ (Giovanni’s Room). There are unlikely spaces here, too: a transatlantic steamer (Q.E.D.), the tearoom of the British Museum (Des Imagistes), and a postwar Berkshire farm (The Fox). We’ll read texts as queer spaces, taking in various forms and genres alongside visual materials and key critical works. Closely examining intersecting identities of gender, sexuality, race, nationality, and class, and probing the relationship between political radicalism and aesthetic experiment, we’ll ask important questions about censorship evasion and canon formation. What does it mean to tell it straight? Why are some writers ‘in’ and others ‘out’? Where would modernism be without its queer texts?

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module aims to introduce you to a diverse range of canonical and peripheral LGBTQIA+ modernist writers and their allies and antagonists. The module will highlight key moments and themes in queer studies and LGBTQIA+ cultural and political history, demonstrating an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach to literary scholarship. You will be encouraged to consider texts in spatial terms, as sites of resistance or (un)gendered plots, and to think about queer modes of writing and reading. The module will equip you with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to conduct your own research on queer texts and contexts.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a diverse range of queer modernist texts.

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with literary texts in their historical, political, and legal contexts.

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with literary modernism and queer studies.

  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
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.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines.


Task Length % of module mark
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

  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

  • Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

  • Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons (1914) and Q.E.D. (1950)

  • Ezra Pound (ed.), Des Imagistes (1914)

  • D. H. Lawrence, The Fox (1922)

  • Richard Bruce Nugent, ‘Smoke, Lilies and Jade’ (1926)

  • Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (1928)

  • Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)

  • Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

  • James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956)

  • Claude McKay, Romance in Marseille (2020)

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.