Mark Twain quotes: 10

Best Modern American novels

Some of the most wonderful fiction in English is by American writers. In this course we shall study five key novels of the twentieth century. by Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Silko, Morrison and Roth, that constitute contrasting interpretations of American experience in the modern age.

Students completing this course will be invited to join our online book group.


Some of the most wonderful fiction in English has been written by Americans. In this course we shall study key novels that constitute contrasting interpretations of twentieth-century U.S.A. We shall examine the representation of history, region and family conflict in William Faulkners depiction of the poverty-stricken Deep South in As I Lay Dying (1930): in Leslie Marmon Silkos exploration of modern Pueblo Indian experience in
Ceremony (1987); and in Toni Morrisons examination of slavery in Beloved (1987). We shall also analyse fictional accounts of personal aspiration and downfall that explore questions of individual and national identity in the modern age: F. Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby (1925); and Philip Roths American Pastoral (1998). Our studies will focus on the relationship between the literary techniques of these works and on their social and political concerns.

Programme details

  1. Reading and writing America: Some introductions.
  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  3. William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
  4. Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony - I
  5. Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony - II
  6. Toni Morrison, Beloved - I
  7. Toni Morrison, Beloved - II
  8. Philip Roth, American Pastoral - I
  9. Philip Roth, American Pastoral - II
  10. The great American novel?

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Dr Tessa Roynon

Role: Speaker

Course aims

This course will enable participants to:

  • acquire both an overview and detailed knowledge of six novels that exemplify the diversity of American experience and narrative form in the twentieth century
  • consider each novels engagement with its specific historical and cultural contexts
  • develop their skills in analysing a range of narrative techniques such as multiple and unreliable narrative voices, disrupted chronologies and recurring symbolism. There is ample scope for applying skills and concepts learned from other online literature courses offered by the Department.
  • discuss the texts comparatively, in relation to other American fiction they have read, and in the context of on-going debates about 'great American novels'
  • contribute to a group reading list and to keep a personal reading blog


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to do so.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below:

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following books (in any reputable editon):

  • Faulkner, William., (1930) [page references will be to the Penguin 1991 edition with Introduction by Tony Tanner]
  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott., The Great Gatsby (1925) [page references will be to the 2004 Vintage Classics edition]
  • Morrison, Toni., Beloved (1987] [page references will be to the Penguin 1986 edition]
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon., Ceremony (1977] [page references will be to the 2005 Vintage International edition]
  • Roth, Philip., American Pastoral (1998). [page references will be to the 2005 Vintage International edition]

The following texts are recommended but not required:

  • Ruland, R. and Bradbury, M., From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature .(New York and London: Penguin, 1992.]
  • Abrams, M.H. and Harpham, G., Glossary of Literary Terms [Florence, KY: Wadsworth, 2011.]/li>

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Guided use of existing websites
  • Discussions of particular issues and responses to reading in the unit forums
  • Close critical analyses of selected extracts from the texts studied

Teaching outcomes

By the end of this course you will understand:

  • the diversity of American experience and its representation in literary form
  • the history and context with which the novels studied engage
  • the effects of a range of narrative techniques
  • the reasons why specific texts might be defined as 'modernist' or 'postmodernist'
  • past and current scholarly and media-led debates about American fiction.

and you will have developed the following skills:

  • to identify the principal themes and narrative techniques in a range of novels
  • to make a case for the relationship between subject-matter and form in each novel
  • to analyze reviews and scholarly essays and to engage with these in personal critical analyses
  • to reflect on a range of novels comparatively
  • to gain an overview of developments in American fiction over time

Fee options

Programme Fee Home/EU Fee: £255.00
Non-EU Fee: £295.00
Other Take this course for CATS points: £10.00
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