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The Sickness of Style - ENG00138M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Daniel Matore
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Rotting corpses and pallid muses lie at the inception of modern poetry. ‘The new is akin to death’, wrote Theodore Adorno, when he pondered the morbidity and newness of the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. And T.S. Eliot likewise found in Baudelaire’s splenetic and insalubrious verse the well-spring of modernity in literature.

Why did style become so sickly? This course will follow a history of morbidity in poetry from 1850 to the present day. We’ll range from the provocative and stylised sickness of Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil and the funereal fables of Emily Dickinson to the contagious hospitals of the modernist poetry of Mina Loy and William Carlos Williams to the psychopathology of race and capitalism in the lyric essays of Claudia Rankine and Dodie Bellamy.

The seminars will be rooted in volumes of poetry and lyric essays, but we’ll also draw on philosophy, medical history, theory, and criticism. Students will be encouraged to develop their own original theses on literature and disease. The course serves as a standalone module but would also offer grounding for students wishing to pursue doctoral research in nineteenth-century, modernist and contemporary poetry and the medical humanities.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

This module will examine the poetics and the aesthetics of sickness. We’ll investigate how and why innovation in British, French and American Literature became wedded to illness. We’ll consider how medical histories and specific diseases like syphilis and tuberculosis impinged on literary history. [NB: Two sessions will cover French poets but all texts will be given in translation and a knowledge of French is not necessary to take this module]

Module learning outcomes

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

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with poetry and pathology from 1850 to the present day.

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with aesthetics and disease in modern British, American and French poetry.

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with the medical humanities and modern and contemporary poetry.

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


Task Length % of module mark
4,500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will hand in an essay of 1,400-1,600 words in Week 6 of the Autumn term for the Postgraduate Life in Practice module. 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 this 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
4,500 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 module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

Indicative reading

Texts Studied on this module may include

  • Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil (OUP, 1993)
  • Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems (Faber, 2016)
  • William Carlos Williams, Collected Poems, volume 1 (Paladin, 1991)
  • Mina Loy, The Lost Lunar Baedeker (Carcanet, 1997)
  • T.S. Eliot, The Poems of T.S. Eliot, volume 1 (Faber, 2015)
  • Yves Bonnefoy, On the Motion and Immobility of Douve (Ohio University Press, 1968)
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin, 2015)
  • Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World (2015)

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.