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Modern Literature

kid laying on floor with books

This course investigates the relationships and tensions between themes of violence, catastrophe and 20th Century literature and film. We will examine the formal and thematic entanglements of these two mediums. Art may conceal or even initiate and propagate violence and catastrophe, yet art can expose horrendous crimes and aid the oppressed in their struggle against injustice and subsequent trauma. Such contradictions will leave students asking: do the arts dehumanize as much as they humanize? Why is modern literature replete with violence and catastrophe? The texts and films selected for this course draw from various historical, cultural, and social contexts and conditions.

Students will probe articles, autobiographies, diaries, films, manifestos, novels, poems, and songs—written, directed and sung by feminists, anti-feminists, Indigenous literature, narratives of civilians, soldiers, nurses, and war veterans, stories of mental illness, global victims of racism, survivors of the Holocaust and Soviet labour camps, Fascist dictators, terrorists, religious fundamentalists and artists who confront, personally, the horrors of violence and catastrophe.


  • Camus, Albert. The Outsider. 1942.
  • Forché, Carolyn. Editor. Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness. 1993.
  •  Halpern, Daniel. Ed. The Art of the Story. 2000.
  • Manto, Saadat Hasan. Bombay Stories. 2014.
  • McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian. 1985.
  • Miłosz, Czesław. The Captive Mind. 1953.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. 1955.
  • Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way. 1922.
  • Sidhwa, Bapsi. Cracking India. 1991.


  • Two Assignments
  • Final Exam

**Assessments subject to change**


  • ENGL 200
  • ENGL 290


Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153


Telephone (613) 533-6000 ext. 74446 extension 74446


Telephone (613) 533-6000 ext. 74447 extension 74447

Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.