EAS3198 - The Death of the Novel

2022/3 Module description

StaffDr Beci Carver - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

The twentieth-century novel operated under a curse. Walter Benjamin’s essay of 1929, ‘The Crisis of the Novel’, led the way in scripting the novel’s path towards doom, but Benjamin was far from being the only critic who painted the genre in apocalyptic shades. And his successors tended to be even more explicit in their gloom. Ronald Sukenick’s polemical story of 1969, ‘The Death of the Novel’, is unique in the extravagance of its titular pessimism, but John Barth’s essay of 1967, ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’, also ventures that the twentieth-century novel is ‘used up’ – that novelists are running out of ideas about how to experiment with the form. How do you follow an act like Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) – or indeed, like Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759)? This course of seminars will reflect on how a number of modern and contemporary novels think through and attempt to think beyond the (supposedly) imminent death of the narrative tradition to which they belong. In other words, we’ll consider what it means for the novel genre to live under a curse. The course will move chronologically through the twentieth century (and the first decade or so of the twenty-first), pairing apocalyptic theories with novels that appear (consciously and/or unconsciously) to fulfil their prophecies. You will also be encouraged to volunteer novels that do not appear on the reading list for a collective post-mortem.   

Module aims

  • To stimulate reflection on the novel as a genre.
  • To encourage historically and theoretically informed readings of particular twentieth and early twenty-first century novels.
  • To contextualise postcolonial and feminist questions within the history of the novel as a genre.
  • To consider the impact of new (and newish) media on the novel and literature more generally.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an ability to think and write in theoretical terms about the novel as a genre
  • 2. Contribute to an on-going debate about the destiny of the novel
  • 3. Analyse prose passages in relation to the central themes of the course

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Develop a technical vocabulary for analysing prose
  • 5. Summarise, synthesise and analyse seminal essays on the novel, as well as a number of recent reviews
  • 6. Devise and write up an original essay on a theme relevant to the course

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Develop the ability to work concentratedly on a substantial piece of writing
  • 8. Write a book review that could be published in a magazine
  • 9. Discuss literary-critical ideas in an accessible and engaging fashion during class

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Cumulative Futility’: Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies (1930) and Benjamin’s ‘The Crisis of the Novel’ (1929)
  • ‘Plotlessness’: Georg Lukács’s ‘Narrate or Describe?’ (1936) and Henry Green’s Party Going (1939)
  • ‘Baneful Short-circuiting’: Mina Loy’s Insel (1930s) and Tyrus Miller’s ‘More or Less Silent: Mina Loy’s Novel Insel ’ (1999)
  • ‘Mutism’: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952) and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1983)
  • ‘Ultimacy’: Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953) and John Barth’s ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ (1967)
  • ‘Revolution’: Alain Robbe-Grillet’s ‘The Future of the Novel’ (1956) and Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy (1957)
  • ‘Death’: Muriel Spark’s The Comforters (1957) and Ronald Sukenick, ‘The Death of the Novel’ (1969)
  • ‘The End for Magnificent Narcissists’: John Updike’s Of the Farm (1965) and David Foster Wallace’s ‘John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is this Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists’ (1997)
  • ‘Risking Failure’: Wallace’s The Pale King (2011) and John Reremiah Sullivan, ‘Review of The Pale King ’ (2011)
  • ‘Zombie Novels’: Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick (2016) and Will Self’s ‘The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)’ (2014)
  • Post-mortem: Focus on Assessment.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching22Two-hour seminar: weekly discussion of the theoretical and literary texts on the reading list
Scheduled learning and teaching11One-hour workshop: a weekly close reading exercise for which no additional preparation will be necessary
Guided independent study110Reading the texts for each seminar, thinking about them
Guided independent study157Writing the two written assignments and scripting the presentation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Recorded presentation followed by Q&A207 minutes1-2, 5, 9Email after the seminar, with BART follow-up
Annotated bibliography201000 words1-2, 5-7Written and tutorial
Essay604000 words1-7Written and tutorial

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Recorded presentation followed by Q&AA 1000-word write-up of the presentation1-2, 5, 9Referral/Deferral period
Annotated bibliographyAnnotated bibliography1-2, 5-7Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-7Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading


  • Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies (1930)
  • Henry Green’s Party Going (1939)
  • Mina Loy’s Insel (1930s)
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953)
  • Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy (1957)
  • Muriel Spark’s The Comforters (1957)
  • John Updike’s Of the Farm (1965)
  • Wallace’s The Pale King (2011)
  • Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick (2016)


  • Benjamin’s ‘The Crisis of the Novel’ (1929), in Selected Writings, vol. II, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, Gary Smith (Belknapp Press, 2005)
  • Georg Lukács’s ‘Narrate or Describe?’ (1936), in Writer and Critic and Other Essays, ed. & trans. Arthur Kahn (Merlin Press, 1978)
  • Tyrus Miller’s ‘More or Less Silent: Mina Loy’s Novel Insel’, Late Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts Between the World Wars (University of California Press, 1999)
  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak? (Macmillian, 1988)
  • John Barth’s ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ (1967), in The Friday Book (John Hopkins University Press, 1984)
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet’s ‘The Future of the Novel’ (1956), in For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction, trans. Richard Howard(Northwestern University Press, 1989)
  • Ronald Sukenick, ‘The Death of the Novel’ (1969), The Death of the Novel and Other Stories (University of Alabama Press, 2003)
  • David Foster Wallace’s ‘John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is this Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists’ (1997), Observer, 10/13/1997
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan, ‘Review of The Pale King’ (2011), GQ, 3/13/2011
  • Will Self’s ‘The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)’ (2014), The Guardian, 5/2/2014

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

All the texts in the second half of the reading list will be available on ELE.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

The novel, modernism, postmodernism, feminism, postcolonialism, genre

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