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Sugar, subjectivity, sexuality & style: The fiction of Elizabeth Bowen - ENG00112M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Victoria Coulson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

This module is an opportunity to study the novels and short stories of the superb twentieth-century Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973). Bowen’s fiction is often compared, on the one hand, to the subtle social critique and psychological tragicomedy of the generation of late realists that came before her – writers such as Henry James and E.M. Forster – and, on the other, to the emotional dislocations and formal experimentalism of such modernist contemporaries as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, while her late work has been recognised as pushing sharply into the territory of postmodern metafiction.

The module is structured as a sequence of four named pairs of seminars, in each of which we will explore a novel and a selection of short stories:

  • Weeks 2 and 3. Orphaned: The Hotel (1927), ‘Coming Home’ (1923), ‘The Visitor’ (1926)
  • Weeks 4 and 5. Sex and Violence: The Last September (1929), ‘The Little Girl’s Room’ (1934), ‘The Cat Jumps’ (1934)
  • Weeks 6 and 7. Analysts: To the North (1932), ‘The Apple Tree’ (1934), ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ (1941)
  • Weeks 8 and 9. War: The Heat of the Day (1949), ‘Ivy Gripped the Steps’ (1945)

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of the module are twofold. First, to study Elizabeth Bowen’s short and full-length fiction in depth, in order to develop a nuanced understanding both of the variety of her thematic concerns and of the range and development of her literary style. Second, to explore the recent history and contemporary state of scholarship on Bowen, in order both to develop a sophisticated understanding of the literary, political and historical bearings of Bowen’s work and to critically interrogate that scholarship in light of a sustained reading of its literary object, Bowen’s fiction.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • demonstrate a detailed and sophisticated understanding of Bowen’s fiction across its full chronological span and in the light of its historical and literary contexts
  • demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the recent history and contemporary state of scholarship on Bowen
  • conceive, develop and articulate original and sophisticated literary readings of Bowen’s novels and short stories
  • Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills


Task Length % of module mark
4500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will hand in an essay of approximately 2,000 words in Week 6 of the Autumn term. The main purpose of the essay is to ensure that the department can identify those students who may require additional assistance with academic writing skills.  Material from the procedural essay may be re-visited in either one of the January essays or the dissertation. It is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. The title topic of the essay, like the title topic of all assessed work for the degree, is left open to the individual student.


Task Length % of module mark
4500 word essay
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 MA convener, module tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

Indicative reading

Novels by Elizabeth Bowen: The Hotel (1927), The Last September (1929), Friends and Relations (1931), To the North (1932),The House in Paris (1935), The Death of the Heart (1938), The Heat of the Day (1949), A World of Love (1955), The Little Girls (1964) and Eva Trout (1969)

Short stories by Elizabeth Bowen: Elizabeth Bowen Collected Stories, intro. by Angus Wilson, Vintage Classics

Critical texts: Elizabeth Bowen and the Dissolution of the Novel, Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle (Palgrave 1995); Elizabeth Bowen: The Shadow Across the Page, Maud Ellmann (EUP 2003);Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return, Neil Corcoran (OUP 2004); the Elizabeth Bowen special issue of Modern Fiction Studies (2007);Elizabeth Bowen, Eibhear Walshe (ed.) (Irish Academic Press 2009);Elizabeth Bowen: New Critical Perspectives, Susan Osborne (ed.) (Cork UP 2009); A World of Lost Innocence, Nicola Darwood (Cambridge Scolars 2012); Elizabeth Bowen and the Writing of Trauma: The Ethics of Survival, Jessica Gildersleeve (Rodopi, 2014)

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.