British Literature After 1900

Legacies of Race, Slavery, and Empire in the 20-21st century British Novel

Starting in the 17th century and lasting throughout the 20th century, the British became deeply invested in colonialism and slavery, forming colonies in India, the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa, along the way taking millions of humans from other countries to force them to work abroad for the British economy. Although slavery was eventually abolished in 1834, and decolonial efforts began in earnest in the early 20th century, the legacies of the twin projects of empire and slavery have deeply affected notions of racial and national identities up until the present time.

The British novel offers a rich examination of this history, which forms the base of our investigations into the legacies of race, slavery, and empire in the 20th and 21st century British novel. This class begins with with two classic British texts that highlight how the British novel constructs ideas of race (both blackness and whiteness), empire, and national identity: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. We will then move to texts that are deeply engaged with the legacy of empire and slavery, and will explore topics such as British colonialism in the Caribbean and India, Black immigration to England, the history of slavery, and contemporary multiculturalism. Throughout the class we will think deeply about how the history of British imperialism and slavery influenced the novel, and will explore how writers of color have written back against previous racist depictions of non-British subjects. Alongside our novels students will read a selection of primary and secondary sources on the British empire and postcolonial theory. Students taking this class may be interested in taking it alongside ENG 433, which will examine in detail the British empire in the 19th century.

Required Texts:

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots

Course Reader with other primary and secondary sources on the British empire and postcolonial theory

Films to be shown in class:

Jane Eyre (2011)


Protocol (2)

Short Writings (3)

Reading Journal

Final Paper

Attendance and Participation