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2019/20 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL5722M Writing about Death in Nineteenth-Century America

30 creditsClass Size: 10

Module manager: Professor Bridget Bennett

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

Pre-requisite qualifications

As for MA programme

This module is not approved as an Elective


On completion of this module, students will be able to engage, in a critically and theoretically informed way, with a number of literary texts that form the basis of the course, as well as using the skills acquired to engage with other literary and critical texts. They will have developed skills in the presentation of oral and written argument. They will be able to handle complex ideas and utilise them with peers and colleagues.

Skills outcomes
Masters (Taught), Postgraduate Diploma & Postgraduate Certificate students will have had the opportunity to acquire the following abilities as defined in the modules specified for the programme:
- the skills necessary to undertake a higher research degree and/or for employment in a higher capacity;
- evaluating their own achievement and that of others;
- self direction and effective decision making;
- independent learning and the ability to work in a way which ensures continuing professional development;
- to engage critically in the development of professional/disciplinary boundaries and norms.


This module is about the ways in which nineteenth-century American writers thought and wrote about the processes of death, loss and mourning. The module will move from the conventions of the Gothic tradition to writings about the Civil War, and the impact of the assassination of Lincoln, the most significant death in the US public sphere in that century. It will look at writing on the death of children, in an era of high child mortality. It will examine both the sentimentalisation of death and the celebration of lives well-lived through the writing of elegies. It will look at death as a literary motif and ask how Americans spoke and wrote about death metaphorically, and how they tried to make the dead speak again. In doing so it will pay attention to recent critical work on memorial and trauma as well as introducing students to hugely popular religious movements such as spiritualism that denied the existence of death, and the production of artefacts such as Post-mortem photographs that created stylised images of the dead to hang in the homes of the living. We start by reading a novel in which mass murder, and suicide in the Revolutionary period suggest profound anxieties about the state of the new nation and the responsibilities of citizens, and end with a novel in which suicide is represented as a feminist act, a final rebellion against a society that stifles the protagonist. Between those two novels we will read of the multiple ways in which the actually dead and the society dead are represented, charting the complexities of writing about death in relation to race, gender and citizenship.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours280.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Reading, researching, seminar and essay preparation: 280 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

One unassessed essay of 2,000 words. In addition, two students will give unassessed seminar presentations in pairs at the start of each seminar.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 4,000 word essay100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/04/2019


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