English - Free topic D: Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner: Studies in the Modern Novel

Course content

This MA course will be concerned with two of the most important novelists of the first half of the twentieth century, and indeed of the entire twentieth century. One is British, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), the other American, William Faulkner (1897-1962).



In Martyn Bone’s classes we will read and discuss three or four of the major novels of Faulkner’s “canonical” period (approximately 1929-1942): The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936). We will also attend to some of his short stories and fiction from the second half of Faulkner’s long career (1945-1962), and within the literary-historical context of the “Faulkner revival” often said to have begun with the publication of Malcolm Cowley’s The Portable Faulkner (1946), and which included Faulkner winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. In order to more fully comprehend Faulkner’s writing and what Laurence Schwartz has termed the process of “creating Faulkner’s reputation” through “the politics of modern literary criticism,” we will also read a range of secondary texts, including key critical texts in Faulkner studies: The New Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner (2015) will likely be required reading.

Among the themes we will consider and discuss are:

  • Faulkner’s modernist approach to issues of representation, especially as they intersect with his attempt to depict the social transformation of the U.S. South by modernity;
  • race relations in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, including racial segregation; racialized violence (i.e., lynching, rape; black resistance and revolt); and challenges to racial categories (i.e., biracial and other mixed identities beyond black and white);
  • gender relations, including Faulkner’s depiction of women’s roles in U.S. southern society; the relationship and tensions between white and black women; and sexuality;
  • class relations, especially Faulkner’s focus on poor white southerners and their relationship or challenge to the planter aristocracy and middle-class;
  • Faulkner’s figuration of the relationship between the U.S. South and the Caribbean as part of a wider New World post-slavery complex (“Plantation America,” or more recently the “Plantationocene”)
  • Faulkner vis-à-vis the politics of literary criticism and canonization, and in a Cold War cultural context;
  • Faulkner’s influences and legacies (as a modernist, in American literature, U.S. southern literature, in world literature)




In Charles Lock’s classes we will study five of the most important novels by Virginia Woolf: Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928) and The Waves (1931). Although Virginia Woolf does not enjoy among English novelists of the first half of the twentieth century the pre-eminence of Faulkner among Americans, her status—if not quite equal to that of James Joyce—is both secure and exceptional.  Publishing her works just a few years before Faulkner’s, Woolf’s narrative innovations and experiments invite comparison with his, however far apart their worlds might be. In this course we shall concentrate on Woolf’s place in the history and the theory of the novel and its extraordinary power to give representation to subjective states, and even to offer definition and identity to subjects.  We will pay particular attention to questions of gender and education—or the difference in education provided to boys and girls of the middle class. As well as the five novels by Woolf we shall be reading A Room of One’s Own (1929) and a variety of her essays and letters.   



Novels combined with relevant criticism

This course only leads to exams Free Topic 1, Free Topic 2 and Free Topic 3.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Type of assessment
Portfolio, A joint portfolio uploaded in digital exam: Deadline January 5th 2022
2 essays (50%/50%), 10-12ns/11-13ns. Deadlines: Midterm/after final class.
Criteria for exam assessment

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 353,5
  • English
  • 409,5