Animals in 20th and 21st century fiction

Course Dates: 04/05/22 - 08/06/22
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: Online
Animals leap, crawl, hop, and gallop across the pages of modern fiction. Why do authors write about animals? What effect does it have on us as readers when we encounter animals in novels and short stories? From Beatrix Potter and Black Beauty to the contemporary novel, this course explores the role of the animal in modern literature. Themes that we will think about together include: animal suffering, animals in depictions of childhood, and animal transformations and dehumanisation. Includes 'Happiness' (2018) by Aminatta Forna and writings by J.M. Coetzee and John Berger.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £129.00 Senior fee £103.00 Concession £79.00

This course has now started

Course Code: HLT163

Started Wed, day, 04 May - 08 Jun '22

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This online literature course is about the importance of animals to 20th and 21st century fiction. Through this 6-week course, we’ll see that imagining the animal allowed modern writers to break new boundaries, finding ways to explore physicality, suffering, and the edges of human experience.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

We will start the course by looking at the golden age of children’s animal literature, represented by late Victorian novels like Black Beauty and the Beatrix Potter tales. We’ll think about what differences there might be between writing about animals for children and for adults. We’ll then take a sharp turn into the nightmarish world of Kafka’s animal parables (‘Metamorphosis’ is the most famous of these), before exploring the experimental novel, Flush, by Virginia Woolf.

In the second half of the course, we turn to think about philosophy, science fiction, memoir and the contemporary urban novel. We’ll look at J.M. Coetzee’s and John Berger’s thoughts about animals, explore the frightening world of Doctor Moreau’s island, and explore the role of animals in memoir and biographical writing. In the final week, we’ll think about the place of animals in the city, through a reading of Aminatta Forna’s 2018 novel Happiness.

During the course, we will also be exploring the role of historical, social and political contexts in shaping the ways we have thought and written about animals.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Have a deeper understanding of the place of animals in modern culture and literature
- Be able to talk confidently about a range of literary texts dealing with these themes
- Better understand the role of politics, society and culture in shaping attitudes to animals
- Be comfortable reading across very different genres: for example, memoir, fantastic fiction, the contemporary realist novel
- Be able to develop your own ideas on the topic eloquently and creatively.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

Some literary study might be an advantage for this course, but the most important skills needed are: 1) enthusiasm about books and willingness to read new things! 2) good listening skills, and openness to free-flowing discussion 3) preparedness: doing the reading and devoting some time to thinking about the topics beforehand.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Mini-lectures each week, followed by small group work and discussion. Work outside class will be primarily the readings for each week.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Please buy or borrow the following:
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty, ed. Adrienne Gavin (Oxford World’s Classics, 2012)
Aminatta Forna, Happiness (Bloomsbury, 2018)

Extracts from the other texts will be provided by the tutor via online links.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other Literature classes under History, Culture and Writing/Literature on our website at

David Barnes

David Barnes is an academic who has held lecturing positions at the universities of Birmingham and Oxford. His teaching specializes in modernist literature, with additional interests in Victorian writing and contemporary fiction. He held a visiting research fellowship at the University of Virginia and recently produced, wrote and presented the radio series, ‘Weird England’ for Radio 3. David’s essays and criticism have been published by Penned in the Margins, Slightly Foxed Quarterly, Times Literary Supplement, Times Higher Education, The Times, and The Guardian. His poems and short fiction have been anthologised in The Wolf, Intercapillary Space, and the Henningham Family Press. He is currently at work on a major writing project on the city and human-animal encounters in modern London.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.