Beastly Writing in the modern age
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HLT226
Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)
What is the course about?
This online literature course is about the way authors from the late nineteenth century to the present have used animals in their writing. From the golden age of Victorian and Edwardian children’s writing to contemporary fiction, the animal performs many different roles. Authors have made us identify with or feel sorry for animals; they have been anthropomorphised, turned into little humans. And sometimes, we have become the animal – in Kafka’s dark tale The Metamorphosis or H.G. Wells’s terrifying science fiction novella The Island of Doctor Moreau.
We will be introduced to an extremely wide range of texts, from children’s tales and science fiction fables to poetry, philosophy, memoir and realist fiction. In the process of exploring these texts, we ask ourselves – through mini-lectures and small group discussions – why animal writing is so useful for such a range of authors. What is the animal doing in these texts? And when we read about animals, do we understand them better or do they become more alien to us? Connection to animals can make us feel better, but, as we’ll discover, encounters with animals can also lead us to question the meaning and purpose of human life.
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 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.
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.
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 following week, we look at rural natural encounters in modern poetry: Seamus Heaney’s with frogs and turkeys, and Alice Oswald’s with owls and other birds.
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
- Better understand the role of politics, society and culture in shaping attitudes to animals
- Be comfortable reading across very different genres: for example, memoir, nature poetry, 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: enthusiasm about books and a willingness to read new things(!), good listening skills, and openness to free-flowing discussion and 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 the following:
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (Wordsworth Classics, 2018)
Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis and Other Stories (Penguin, 2019). Read ‘The Metamorphosis’, ‘The Burrow’, ‘Josephine the Singer’.
Virginia Woolf, Flush (Oxford World’s Classics, 2009)
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?
Please look for other courses on our website at www.citylit.ac.uk/history, culture and writing/literature/fiction.
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.