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ENGL2051 Objects of Desire

Module Overview

What is an object? Accounts of modernist literature often emphasise its interest in selfhood and the interior world, but the early twentieth century saw an anxious reconsideration of objects, and the ways they might be captured, contained, organised, or purchased. Modernism worries about litter (T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land), and wonders what to do with family keepsakes (Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room). Its characters are always misplacing things, from umbrellas (E.M. Forster’s Howards End) to house keys (James Joyce’s Ulysses). Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore write a poetry of things, memorialising snails, jam jars and ice creams, yet they also explore whether a poem can be an object, and whether a poet, too, might turn from observer into observed. This module will explore modernist writing through the objects it describes.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• explore the dynamism and energy of modernist culture • navigate complex literary forms and techniques • consider the relationship between literary and critical trends • interrogate the status of objects, from potatoes to gramophones

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • appreciate, understand, and critically analyse modernist literature
  • make effective links between literary, critical and conceptual developments during the period
  • develop an informed and reflective understanding of the role of the object modern culture
  • consider critically how literary periods are shaped, defined, and remembered
  • improve your essay-writing skills


This module will introduce you to some of most important literary works and movements of the twentieth-century and enrich your appreciation of related trends in literary criticism and theory. It will also expand the ways you think about the external world and the objects around you, sharpening your skills as both a literary critic and curator.

Special Features

This module’s focus on objects and the way they are presented will develop the student’s curatorial eye, and would be useful preparation for a career in the museums and heritage industry. The use of presentations and group tasks in the seminar sessions enhances student employability, helping them develop their collaborative skills and their ability to present their ideas cogently and coherently to an audience.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • 1 x seminar discussion per week • 1 lecture per week • guidance and feedback sessions on assignments • essay consultations Learning activities include • private study • discussion with colleagues and tutor • presentations • accessing and evaluating appropriate online resources • essay-writing

Preparation for scheduled sessions40
Wider reading or practice100
Completion of assessment task80
Follow-up work32
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Peter Gay (2009). Modernism: The Lure of Heresy. 

Siraganian, Lisa (2012). Modernism’s Other Work: The Art Object’s Political Life. 

Harry Blamires (1996). The New Bloomsday Book. 

Stevens, Wallace (2011). Harmonium. 

Trotter, David (2003). Cooking With Mud: The Idea of Mess in Nineteenth-Century Culture and Fiction. 

Forster, E.M. (1997). Howards End. 

Woolf, Virginia (2012). Jacob’s Room ed. Suzanne Riatt. 

Eliot, T.S. (2004). The Waste Land ed. Michael North. 

ed. Peter Jones (2005). The Penguin Book of Imagist Poetry. 

Joyce, James (1998). Ulysses ed. Jeri Johnson. 

Mao, Douglas (1998). Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production. 

eds. Gregory, Rosalyn and Kolhman, Benjamin (2011). Utopian Spaces of Modernism: Literature and Culture, 1885- 1945. 

Armstrong, Tim (1998). Modernism, Technology and the Body. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 60%
Examination  (2 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 60%
Examination  (2 hours) 40%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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