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Program Overview

British Literature

British Literature

Pursue a course of study focusing on British literary texts and other cultural artifacts. Students will deepen their understanding of the role of narrative and literary form in shaping the experiences and articulating the philosophical, political and social questions central to British history and culture.

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About the British Literature Program

British Literature Course Schedule

The British Literature Course Schedule page provides you with detailed information on the program's offerings.

British Literature Faculty

You can find a full listing of our instructors in this certificate program on the British Literature Faculty page.

Admission for the British Literature Program

Applicants to this certificate program must hold a graduate degree from an accredited U.S. college, university or its foreign equivalent. A competitive graduate record that indicates strong academic ability is required, though applicants need not have extensive experience in literary studies. A list of admission requirements can be found on our British Literature Admission page.

British Literature Tuition

Tuition costs can vary for each of our programs. For the most up-to-date information on financial obligations, please visit our British Literature Tuition page.

British Literature Registration Information

Our British Literature Registration Information page outlines important dates and deadlines as well as the process for adding and dropping courses.

Gainful Employment in British Literature

Common questions and answers related to cost, financing and success in this certificate program are found on our Gainful Employment in British Literature page.

Additional Information

The post-graduate certificate in British Literature may be especially beneficial to educators, students who are thinking of going on to a PhD program, or anyone who wants to focus their literary study more precisely. Students complete four thematically linked courses for a specialization. The certificate will:

  • Expose students to Northwestern University’s distinguished and world class instructors.
  • Provide students with countless opportunities to engage with others who are passionate to rediscover and master classic texts while exploring exciting, contemporary works, diverse genres and cutting-edge ideas in narrative form and interpretation.
  • Engage students in advanced literary study, which improves critical assessment and problem solving skills which translate to work, personal and intellectual life.
  • Sharpen analytical and writing abilities, which can help prepare students for application to PhD programs.

Applicants must possess a graduate degree in order to be considered for this program.

Find out more about Northwestern's British Literature program

British Literature Course Options

To complete this certificate, students may take any four courses available in the topic area (which may include courses available through The Graduate School). To satisfy the four units of credit required for the certificate, students also have the option to register for the following:

  • An independent study, which is a customized course of study undertaken by a single student under the guidance of an instructor. Denoted by the course number, 499, independent studies are comparable in their demands to other graduate-level courses.
  • A capstone project, which is an essay of 45 to 75 double-spaced pages written under the supervision of an approved faculty member. The project presents an opportunity to research and explore a topic thoroughly. Students often elect to expand a seminar paper from a previous course. Students who wish to pursue a capstone project must do so as their fourth and final course in the certificate program.

Students who did not previously study literature at the graduate level are strongly encouraged to take LIT 410: Introduction to Graduate Study. This course introduces current issues in literary and cultural studies and provides access to some of the approaches and techniques for the study of literature at the graduate level.

Please note that courses completed in the certificate program cannot be transferred to the corresponding graduate degree.

Core Courses:Course Detail
Introduction to Digital Studies <> IPLS 420-0

How do we better understand the conjuncture of digital technologies and the humanities? What kinds of thinking, research, teaching, politics, and cultural analysis can the digital enhance? How, in turn, do the fields that constitute the humanities (history, literary and language studies, philosophy, art history, musicology, cultural anthropology, media studies, etc.) offer guidance and grounding in today's wireless world? This course introduces students to the emerging field of critical digital studies, which looks at the intersection of digital technology and the humanities. Through a blending of weekly online engagements and three, Saturday afternoon face-to-face seminars, we address topics such as: what is the history of both the humanities and digital approaches to it as an interdisciplinary project? How can we address humanities questions today through new tactics of computational study found in informatics, statistical analysis, data visualization, and "big data" approaches? What new modes of publishing and scholarly communication do digital technologies make possible (multimedia presentation, podcasts, video, visualization, etc.)? How do we understand the ethics and politics of the digital world (surveillance, open source, net neutrality, sustainability, power)? Each week, students conduct readings and viewings, explore case studies, and complete online experiments. We pursue vigorous online discussion and convene in person for a seminar three times over the course of the quarter. Students pursue a final digital project in consultation with the instructor and in relation to individual interests and pursuits (graduate work, professional interests, digital humanities methodologies). Weekly topics include: digital annotation and database construction for close reading; "distant reading" tactics; digital mapping and timeline building; data and archives; network analysis; glitching and deformance for hermeneutic interpretation; and platforms and social media for humanities inquiry. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Chicago Studies, Digital Studies, History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Literature, British Literature, Comparative and World Literature, Film, Literature and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course is required of MALS and COAGS students, specializing in Digital Studies. But any interested graduate student may take the course as an elective. Please note, this course is a hybrid which will meet in person on January 13, February 10, and March 17.)


View IPLS 420-0 Sections
Intro to Graduate Study <> LIT 410-0

This course approaches literary studies on a graduate level. We will examine the act of reading and literary interpretation, including various methodologies for producing and documenting literary criticism. We will also work to understand a range of literary theories and their suitable deployment through encounters with selected American realist, modernist, and postmodernist works by authors including Whitman, Twain, Cather, Dreiser, Hemingway, Eliot, Morrison, and DeLillo. We will survey various schools of criticism including Marxism, New Criticism, structuralism and post-structuralism, gender and queer theory, cultural studies, and the New York Intellectuals. (This course is required of all MALit students within the first year of study. This course may also count toward the American literature specialization.)


There is no available section.
Introduction to Graduate Study <> LIT 410-0

How do we interpret literary texts? What is a literary text? This course approaches literary studies on a graduate level, and it addresses various methodologies for reading and interpreting texts, as well as the practical skills needed to produce and document literary criticism. We will work to understand a range of literary theories and their suitable deployment through encounters with British writers including Charlotte Brontë, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Bram Stoker, T. S. Eliot, A. S. Byatt, and Zadie Smith. Principal literary theories under review are formalism (New Criticism), historicism, Marxism, Freudian theory, structuralism, poststructuralism, feminism, queer theory, and postcolonialism. (This course is required of all MALit students within the first year of study. If taken previously, it may also count toward the British literature or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


View LIT 410-0 Sections
Courses:Course Detail
Loving the Child <> IPLS 492-0

One comes to this course with a willingness to question the relationships between parents and children, beginning with Georgian England and continuing to those of contemporary times, in literature, art and film. While these relationships can be loving, they also can be deeply disturbing, even abusive; in Dame Iris Murdoch's work, for example, the young are often sacrificial lambs for the older generation, sacrificed even to death. Causes of discord between the generations are often more numerous than causes for agreement and harmony. To unpack these relationships and explore these themes, we will read novels, view films and works of art and photography. Some of the work we will examine point out areas of disagreement between parents and children that come with one generation's shock when a child's homosexuality is revealed, as in Nadine Gordimer's The House Gun; political disagreement between generations can be equally difficult in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons; looking at Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, while viewing the photographs he took of the young child he used as the model for Alice can give us another view of adults and children in Victorian England, for example. Our list will be wide-ranging. (This course may count towards the History or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count towards the British Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
20th C Lit: Joyce and Woolf <> LIT 405-0

In this seminar we will study two landmark novelists whose works still reverberate around the globe: the Irish expatriate James Joyce and the English writer and critic Virginia Woolf (each 1882-1941). Living and writing in a period of accelerating scientific, technological, social, political, and economic change as well as civil and world war, each created radically new narrative forms to register modern time and modern times from the antithetical vantage points, respectively, of colonial Dublin and the imperial London metropolis. Through a selection of each author’s major works, we’ll explore their creative interventions in literary genres (e.g., short story, autobiographical fiction, epic, elegy, the novel) in light of a host of influences; among others, theories of the unconscious and “the psychopathology of everyday life”; scapegoat dynamics in theory and everyday practice; relations among bodies, desire, gender, representational strategies; performance (studied and unconscious) and theatricality; loss and elegy; the power of love; the scalpel of wit; the social life of comedy and humor; the socio-economic sex/gender system, including marriage and prostitution, as keys to political authority; the powers and pleasures of language in their modernist medleys of voices and styles: interior monologue, dialogue, poetry, news, advertising, jokes, parody, obfuscation, song, music, play script, letters, catechism, allusion, citation, non-English words, silence. We will approach these challenging, exhilarating, deeply rewarding books in ways playful and critical, jocoserious and analytic, each of us seeking singular revelations with serious purpose and imaginative freedom.

Requirements: Active, informed participation; short weekly analytic and interpretive exercises; oral presentation; proposal and seminar project.

(This course may count towards the British Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, Comparative and World Literature, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Henry James and Film <> LIT 405-0

Henry James wrote his illustrious fictions at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, just as the technology of cinema was being perfected and its artistic potentials were first realized. To an uncanny degree, James’s central concerns as a writer were also those of cinema: the mysteries of personality and behavior; the tension between the old world and the new; the contrasting traditions of Europe and America; the revelation of character through objects, environments, and reckless impulses; and the various problems posed across the social ladder by sex, gender, money, death, and the supernatural. Comparing some of James’s short stories and novels to their film adaptations shows us how his plots and themes have been differently understood over time, and how film’s capabilities for rendering psychology, conflict, love, horror, aesthetics, and thought have also evolved. Students will learn key techniques of film analysis, will absorb some core ideas and innovations in the work of a dazzling author, and will braid these two areas of knowledge in their own sophisticated essays. (This course may count toward the American literature, British literature, or Literature film and visual culture specialization in MALit or the American studies specialization in MALS.)


There is no available section.
Can You Have Good Without God? <> LIT 405-0

British author and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch explores this intriguing question in much of her fiction, introducing it, in part in her mid-career novel, A Fairly Honourable Defeat, an allegorical tale of the perennial struggle between good and evil. Having begun life as a practicing Anglican, and ending it (before the onset of Alzheimer's disease) as an agnostic, Dame Iris touches upon this subject in much of her fiction, in particular posing the age-old human question, who or what is responsible for evil and suffering in the universe if there is no God? If there is no God, can you have Good? It is important to remember that she began life as a philosopher.

Many of Murdoch's characters are caught in this dilemma; some seem to be "evil", using the term rather loosely, and some too good to be true. The young are often sacrificial lambs for the older generation. This course will examine Murdoch's universal themes and her very topical writing for today's world. She is a writer who needs to be remembered and respected.

Texts will include A Fairly Honourable Defeat, The Sovereignty of Good, A Severed Head, The Sea, The Sea, The Black Prince and The Book and The Brotherhood, among possible others. Course will feature some lecture, active discussion and short papers as well as one final longer paper.

(This course may count toward the British literature specialization. It may also count toward the Religion and ethical studies specialization in MALS. It may also count toward any of these specialization certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Reading Romantic Poems <> LIT 405-0

Great poets, according to Coleridge, have to create the taste by which they are enjoyed; they make new readers as well as original poems. During an age of revolutions, Romantic poets tried to transform not only the world of poetry but also the world outside it. This course will explore the projects of Romantic poetry by reading poems that challenge the reader to reimagine literature and life. Through a variety of critical approaches, we will try to enter the moment when each poet sought to answer radical, personal questions: what has been done in poetry? what has been left for me to do? Those poets will include such major figures as Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, as well as many less well known, such as Charlotte Smith and John Clare. The course will begin by looking at responses of Romantic poems to earlier poetry, and it will end by looking at the presence of Romantic poems in later poetry. (This course may count toward the British literature specialization. It may also count toward the British literature specialization certificate program.)


There is no available section.
Representing the Psyche <> LIT 405-0

This course considers the distinct and complementary ways in which literature and psychoanalysis have inquired into the structure and constitution of the human mind. Historically, literature and psychoanalysis have a long-standing, intimate, and sometimes fraught relationship. Beginning with its founding father Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis has founded its theories based on the observation of not only of real-life patients but also literary characters. And literary critics have drawn on the work of Freud and later psychoanalysts to afford insight into the structure, imagery, language, and characterizations of literary texts. This course will consider how literature and psychoanalysis offer alternative ways of representing the human psyche—sometimes complementarily, sometimes contradictorily. Texts will include foundational works of psychoanalytic theory by Freud, Jacques Lacan, Melanie Klein, and Julia Kristeva; and literary texts that have been influential for, and/or influentially interpreted by, psychoanalysis. Students will gain fluency in the discourse of psychoanalysis; competency in using psychoanalytic concepts to interpret literary texts; and an appreciation for both the possibilities and the limits of such interpretative strategies.  (This course may count towards the British Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master's in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Experiments With Verse <> LIT 405-0

When Stéphane Mallarmé spoke at Oxford and Cambridge in 1894, he claimed that he was bringing news--"the most amazing and unprecedented news. . . . We have been experimenting with verse." But Mallarmé spoke in French. Twenty years would pass before the news took hold in England and America. Yet when it did, it sparked an outburst of profound experiments, a revolution that we still call modern poetry.

This course will explore the flowering and triumph of that revolution. Focusing on English and American poetry between the two world wars, we will read poems by a galaxy of modern masters, including William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, HD, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, e. e. cummings, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, and W. H. Auden. Together, their experiments transformed ideas of what poetry could be. The object of this course will be to recapture, through close and creative readings, the freshness and the energy of that time, when modern poetry came into its own.

(This course may count towards the British Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master's in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Victorian Travel & Crime <> LIT 405-0

This seminar will explore Victorian travel and crime fiction, looking at the interpenetration of popular and serious literature during the rise of the British Empire and the expansion of the United States. We will examine several important literary narratives that develop the concept of travel—as a form of escape, as a search for knowledge, as a source of adventure, and as an instrument in empire-building—in order to address its role in forming the identity of both individuals and nations. We will also discuss the growing importance of sensational (mystery and crime) fiction, examining its cultural and historical contexts, as well as its influence on serious writers such as Dickens, Conrad, and James. (This course may count towards the British Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master's in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


View LIT 405-0 Sections
Anglo-American Mysteries <> LIT 405-0

Why is mystery fiction (aka detective or crime fiction) such a popular genre, read across social strata and generating material for film and TV? What are the ways in which mysteries have influenced serious literary fiction? To address these questions we will explore the development of Anglo-American crime fiction from its mid-nineteenth-century origins to its global expansion today. We will examine the historical and social conditions for the emergence and development of the popular genre (urbanization of Europe and America; rise of the British Empire; importance of the inter-war period; Cold War, etc.). This will allow us to discuss the structure and evolution of formula fiction and its role in popular and high culture, its reflection of the preoccupations of Western societies, and the ways in which canonical writers have used elements of mystery fiction in their own literature. Readings will include works by representative mystery writers (Poe, Conan Doyle, Christie, Chandler), as well as literary fiction by Pynchon, O’Brien and Atkinson. (This course may count towards the British Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs. )


There is no available section.
The Seven Deadly Sins <> LIT 405-0

This course will consider representations of the seven deadly sins in Renaissance thought, art, and literature of the western European tradition, with a particular focus on the English canon. Texts will include both visual and textual artifacts, including paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch; narrative poetry by John Skelton and Edmund Spenser; lyric poetry by Ben Jonson and Andrew Marvell; and prose sermons and essays by John Donne and Michel de Montaigne. (All texts will be provided in translation.) To complement the Renaissance texts, we will read contemporary essays about the conception and practice of the seven deadly sins in contemporary secular culture. By comparing early modern and contemporary conceptions of the sins, we will foster a larger conversation about the cultural history of western ethics and morality. (This course may count towards the British Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Religious and Ethical Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


View LIT 405-0 Sections
Conceptions of the Body in Medieval Literature <> LIT 405-0

Forthcoming.


There is no available section.
Jane Austen and The Rise of The Novel <> LIT 405-05

This course will trace the development of the English novel from travel narrative, Gothic and sentimental fiction to the realism of Jane Austen. We will read selections from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), usually considered the first English novel, and from 18th-C. Gothic and sentimental fiction to compare these to Austen’s realistic comedies of manners. The course will focus on Austen’s novels, from her parody of Gothic and sentimental romances in Northanger Abbey to her satire of British society in Persuasion. We will also look at the enduring popularity and afterlife of Jane Austen’s oeuvre and current “Austenmania” with its plethora of film adaptations, sequels, and parodies, including a more serious treatment of Austen’s fictional world in Jo Baker’s 2013 novel Longbourn, the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the perspective of the servants. (This course may count towards the British Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count towards the Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


There is no available section.
Contemporary Adaptation LIT 492-0

Courses in literature-to-film adaptation often emphasize canonical and historically distant works by such authors as Shakespeare, Austen, or the Victorians. This course instead centers on contemporary novels and short stories as well as their film adaptations, mostly but not exclusively produced in Hollywood. Beyond simply comparing these texts in terms of story or style, we will ask how literary fiction has itself changed in a 21st-century media environment where film rights are often sold before novels get finished, and where financing, production, media circulation, and creative processes constantly change. We will read American stories that have been adapted differently by U.S. and international filmmakers, and we will contemplate the politics that appear to motivate which texts get adapted -- and which themes are considered "literary," "prestigious," or globally marketable in an era when comic books, video games, and prior movies inspire more adaptations than do recent novels or plays. Along the way, we will master key skills of formal analysis and thematic argument regarding both literature and film. Key texts are likely to include "Brokeback Mountain" (Proulx), Children of Men (James), No Country for Old Men (McCarthy), "So Much Water So Close to Home" (Carver), Oil! (Sinclair), Atonement (McEwan), "Lust, Caution" (Zhang), The Reader (Schlink), and Persepolis (Satrapi), as well as the movies derived from these texts.  (This course may count towards the American literature, British Literature, Comparative and World Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
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