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MA in English Literary Studies / Irish Studies


The Irish Novel in the Twentieth Century


Convenors: Dr Stefanie Lehner and Dr Sinéad Sturgeon


Module content

‘It is impossible to draw Ireland as she now is in a book of fiction,’ wrote the pioneering Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth in 1832, ‘realities are too strong, party passions too violent, to bear to see, or care to look at, their faces in a looking-glass.’ Edgeworth could not have known, of course, that the ensuing decades and century would witness the emergence of such masters of the literary form as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, John Banville and Anne Enright – writers for whom no reality was “too strong”, no passion “too violent” for the “looking-glass” of the novel. Drawing on historical and cultural contexts, this module explores the extraordinary literary tradition of the Irish novel, examining its development in the twentieth century through a consideration of such topics as realism in Ireland, the literary fantastic, experimental fiction, the ‘Big House’ novel, migrant fictions, fiction of the ‘Troubles’, contemporary fiction, women’s writing, and the contemporary trauma novel.



One 3800-4500 word essay (90% of overall mark), and a 10% mark for seminar presentation.


Seminar Schedule


Week 1 Introduction


A The Big House

Week 2             Somerville and Ross, The Real Charlotte (1895)

Week 3             Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September (1929)

Week 4             Kate O’Brien, Mary Lavelle (1936), The Land of Spices (1941)

Week 5            John Banville, Birchwood (1973)


B Experimental Fiction

Week 6            James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

Week 7            Samuel Beckett, The Trilogy (1951)

Week 8            Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman (1967)


C The Contemporary Trauma Novel

Week 9            Anna Burns, No Bones (2001); Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark (1996)

Week 10           Anne Enright, The Gathering (2007); The Green Road (2015)

Week 11          Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013)


Set texts

Somerville and Ross, The Real Charlotte (Capuchin Classics, 2011)

Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September (1929) (Vintage Classics, 1998)

Kate O’Brien, Mary Lavelle (Virago 1996), The Land of Spices (Virago 1988)

John Banville, Birchwood (Picador 2010)

James Joyce, Ulysses (Penguin Modern Classics, 2000)

Samuel Beckett, The Trilogy (Everyman 2015)

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman (Harper Perennial, 2007)

Anna Burns, No Bones (Flamingo 2001)

Anne Enright, The Gathering (Vintage, 2008); The Green Road (Vintage 2016)

Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark

Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013)


* Note on set texts

Some texts may not currently be in print, but are usually readily available second-hand on Amazon or in Belfast bookstores, or in the McClay Library. Please try to ensure you have copies of all set texts by the beginning of semester, and if you are having trouble sourcing one, please contact the convenors who will be happy to help!