British Literature After 1900

ENG 335: “Legacies of Race, Slavery, and Empire in the 20th-21st century British Novel”

Delivery Format: In-person T/TH 1:30-2:45

Course Description:

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 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 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, and will form 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: Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners; Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea; Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots; and Zadie Smith, White Teeth. Through these texts we will explore topics such as British colonialism in the Caribbean and India, Black immigration to England, the history of slavery and imperial legacies, and 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 have written back against previous racist descriptions.

Required Texts  

  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)     
  • Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956)
  • Jean Rys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)   
  • Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots (2008)
  • Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
  • Small selection of primary and secondary sources available as PDFs.

Major Assignments

  • Historical Context Presentation and Short Writing        20%
  • Two Short Writings                                                        30%
  • Class Journal/Participation                                            20%
  • Final Paper                                                                    30%

Content Warning

Please note that some of our course materials will contain descriptions of violence against people of color, as well as other potentially upsetting images and descriptions relating to the history of slavery and colonialism. I will do my best to limit these descriptions, and will always give you a warning as to when you will encounter them.