English Literature Summer School 2020



A three-week residential summer school examining a variety of significant texts and literary movements from Old English to the present day.

  • Offering seminars on Old and Middle English literature, Shakespeare, the English Romantic poets, Jane Austen, Victorian fiction, modernist literature, contemporary writing, British and Irish theatre, world literature, and feminist literature and theory.
  • Including a daily lecture programme given by leading scholars and distinguished speakers.
  • Providing an opportunity to study and live at Exeter College, one of Oxford University's oldest colleges.

The academic programme consists of

  • study in small interactive seminar groups with specialist tutors; and
  • a daily lecture programme given by leading scholars and distinguished speakers.

Graduate applicants choose two seminars from:

  • Old and Middle English Literature
  • Shakespeare and Politics: Then and Now
  • The English Romantic Poets
  • Jane Austen's World
  • Victorian Fiction
  • Modernist Literature: Poetry and Prose
  • Contemporary Writing
  • British and Irish Theatre, 1890-Present
  • World Literature
  • Feminist Literature and Theory.

(See "Programme details", below, for graduate seminar descriptions.)

Undergraduate students take two mandatory courses:

Critical Reading

Close critical analysis is at the heart of the study of literature and one of the first skills that we need to acquire to become attentive, discriminating, critical readers. In this course we shall look at a selection of poetry and prose from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries, paying attention to different aspects of language and form, and using key concepts and terms of the critical idiom. This will enable us to develop and hone the skills required for attentive and effective analyses of literary texts.

Tutor: Dr Edward Clarke teaches English literature for OUDCE and St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Shakespeare on Stage and Screen

In this seminar we shall explore the many different ways in which Shakespeare can be performed on stage and screen. While referring to a wide range of titles, we shall focus our discussion on interpretations of three plays - Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Macbeth. Viewing extracts which feature actors and directors as diverse as Kenneth Branagh, Patrick Stewart, Julie Taymor and Joss Whedon, we shall explore some key differences between stage and screen Shakespeare, consider the variety of approaches taken by directors, and compare different interpretations of the same play or role.

Tutor: Dr John O’Connor is Visiting Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, USA, and was formerly Principal Lecturer in English at Westminster College, Oxford. He has also taught at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Each graduate and undergraduate seminar has two two-hour meetings per week, and classes will usually contain no more than 14 students.

Contact hours

The programme provides a minimum of 46.5 contact hours, comprising:

  • 24 hours of seminar meetings (12 hours per seminar); and
  • 22.5 hours of lectures (15 lectures, each lasting 1.5 hours).

Social programme

A range of optional social events will be offered throughout the summer school. These are likely to include: a walking tour of Oxford, after-dinner talks and discussions; and weekend excursions to sites of literary and/or historical interest.

Most of these activities incur additional costs, which are payable by students in Oxford.

Beyond the summer school, Oxford is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with a busy cultural and social scene offering a wide variety of plays and shows, concerts, films and exhibitions.

Programme details

Seminar options

Graduate courses


Please check the seminar timetables carefully to ensure that your first and second choice courses do not run at the same time.

Old and Middle English Literature

Medieval English literature is extraordinarily diverse: it offers, amongst other things, haunting elegies, tales of adventure, pious tracts, ribald verse, biting social commentary and flocks of querulous birds. This course aims to offer a glimpse these manifold delights through a focus on dreams, visions and encounters in texts from the eighth to the fourteenth century. We begin with enigmatic poetry that asks what it means to see, before moving through texts that question the relationship between language and meaning, signs and signification, to end with debates about the purpose of debate – and a man of great authority.

Tutor: Dr Helen Appleton is a Fellow in Medieval English at Balliol College, Oxford. She specialises in the literatures of Britain in the medieval period, especially texts in Old and Early Middle English and their influences.

Shakespeare and Politics: Then and Now

All of Shakespeare’s plays are bound up in the politics of their time, but at given points in history some have seemed more obviously ‘political’ than others. In this seminar we shall discuss plays that had a particular political dimension in the early modern period and changed meanings when performed today. In discussions we shall focus mainly on Richard II, Henry V, Macbeth and Hamlet; there will also be allusions to many others, including Henry VI Part 2, Coriolanus, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Sir Thomas More.

Tutor: Dr John O’Connor is Visiting Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, USA, and was formerly Principal Lecturer in English at Westminster College, Oxford. He has also taught at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.

The English Romantic Poets

The ‘Romantic’ period saw one of the great flowerings of creativity in England, particularly in poetry, alongside a great radicalisation of politics. This course will consider the major poets of the period in their intellectual context, exploring their formal innovations and interests in older traditions, and their new ideas of selfhood and politics. We shall focus on the works of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, and John Keats, with opportunities to explore the works of Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Robinson, John Clare, and others.

Tutor: Dr Tom MacFaul has taught for Oxford University for a number of years and is currently Lecturer in English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. His research interests extend from the Renaissance /early modern period to the Romantics.

Jane Austen's World

Austen’s fiction is sometimes characterised as being restricted to drawing rooms and tea tables. But Austen’s world was further reaching than this would suggest. This course will allow students to read Austen alongside texts that bring to light her global politics and style. We will read Mansfield Park with Said’s Orientalism and Equiano’s Interesting Narrative. We will find out why there are so many officers in red coats in her novels, and the part the Navy had to play in the author’s life. We will discover the importance of location and travel in Austen, and how these factors create believable worlds, characters and events. 

Tutor: Dr Anna Senkiw is a Research Assistant for various women's letters projects at Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University. She teaches and researches broadly on eighteenth-century drama, women's writing (especially the novel), and the use of newspapers in fiction.

Victorian Fiction

The great Victorian novelists produced searching analyses of their society, exploring with pathos, passion and humour its often contradictory values - social aspiration, romantic yearning, moral fervour and religious doubt. Dealing with such issues in compelling narratives, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy showed how the lives of individuals were enmeshed in the cultural forces of the age. We shall examine three of their masterpieces: Bleak House, The Mill on the Floss and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. As well as discussing the novels’ central themes, the course will pay close attention to their structure and use of language.

Tutor: Dr Charlotte Jones is a Teaching Fellow in Victorian and Modern Literature at King's College London, and a former lecturer at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Her research focuses on the novel, literary realism and philosophy.

Modernist Literature: Poetry and Prose

What is ‘Modernist Literature’ and why is it a term we continue to use? Using this central question as a framework for discussion, this lively but intensive course will consider a selection of poetry and prose (by T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf and W. B. Yeats), to look in detail at this experimental, daring period of literature some 100 years on.

Tutor: Tara Stubbs is Associate Professor in English Literature at OUDCE, and a Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford. Her interests include Irish and American poetry, modernism, and transatlantic exchange.

Contemporary Writing

This course will consider how British and Irish writers have responded to the challenge of the contemporary in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. Through close attention to the relationship between literary form and current events, we will examine the ways that recent authors have shaped their novels, short fiction, poetry, and drama to accommodate and critique the present day. Seminar discussions will range from urgent questions about cultural identity and technology to the present state and infrastructure of the literary landscape. Authors will include: Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, Seamus Heaney, China Miéville, and Jez Butterworth.

Tutor: Dr Michael Molan has taught English literature from the early modern to the contemporary at Oxford University and the University of East Anglia. His research includes the impact of literary influence on poetry and criticism from modernism to the present, and epistolary networks of writers in the twentieth century.

British and Irish Literature, 1890-Present

Theatre in Britain and Ireland has undergone a series of radical upheavals in form and function across the last two centuries. This course will trace the evolution of British and Irish theatre from 1890 up to the present day, from Oscar Wilde through Samuel Beckett up to Tim Crouch. Although we will examine a range of dramatic forms, two lines of continued concern will unify our discussion: our playwrights’ attention to the limits and new potentialities in the dramatic form; and theatre’s concern with the world of politics and social issues beyond the walls of the auditorium.

Tutor: Hannah Simpson researches and teaches modern and contemporary theatre at Oxford University. Her work has a particular focus on the representation of pain, illness, and disability onstage, and the intersection between political culture and theatre and performance.

World Literature

‘World literature’ is a contested term and a much-debated area of literary studies. This course will explore the key debates around the terms ‘world literature’ and ‘postcolonial studies’ alongside relevant texts that have inspired and complicated these debates. Considering how the circulation of texts feeds into their reception, this course considers how and why certain texts are transnational, global, and/or postcolonial. Through the work of authors such as Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Junot Díaz, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Han Kang, this course examines how texts become ‘world’ literature, what this means for their critical success or popularity and how the poetics and aesthetics of these texts present a conundrum of classification in traditional literary criticism.

Tutor: Chelsea Haith is a DPhil candidate in contemporary literature at Wolfson College, Oxford. She is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar and her research background is in postcolonial studies, gender studies, speculative fiction, literary theory, and contemporary refugee poetry.

Feminist Literature and Theory

The word ‘feminist’ did not appear until the 1890s, yet there have been women writing about and advocating equal rights for centuries. This course will examine the development of feminist thinking, engaging with a range of critical debates surrounding the theory and practice of feminist writing. Focusing on three novels - Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, and Jackie Kay’s Trumpet - seminars will explore how these works relate to and critique key issues such as sexuality, gender identity and race, and consider the assumptions and values about gender that are embedded within literature and language as a whole.

Tutor: Dr Terri Mullholland has taught critical theory and modernism for OUDCE. Her research interests are in women’s writing, modernism, and critical and cultural theory.


All students who complete the programme will receive an attendance certificate.

Those seeking credit at their home institution may request a detailed certificate which lists contact hours (for lectures and seminars), an assessment of their contribution to seminar discussions, grades achieved for written work, and the number of private study hours required. Certificates will usually be sent to students' home institutions within a month of the end of the summer school.

As Oxford University does not offer credit for this summer school, those wishing to obtain credit from their home institution for attending this programme must make appropriate arrangements with that institution in advance.


Residential: Standard (shared bathroom) - £3,280; Residential: En suite (private bathroom acilities) - £3,575; Non-residential (no accommodation or meals) - £1,460


Programme fees

  • Residential: Standard (shared bathroom facilities) - £3,280
    Fees include tuition (2 seminars and the daily lecture programme); access to IT facilities and libraries; accommodation in a standard single room with shared bathroom facilities for the nights of Sunday 5 July to Friday 24 July 2020 inclusive; meals in hall from dinner on Sunday 5 July to breakfast on Saturday 25 July 2020 (except lunch on Saturdays and Sundays).

  • Residential: En suite (private bathroom facilities) - £3,575
    Fees include tuition (2 seminars and the daily lecture programme); access to IT facilities and libraries; accommodation in a single en suite room with private shower and toilet for the nights of Sunday 5 July to Friday 24 July 2020 inclusive; meals in hall from dinner on Sunday 5 July to breakfast on Saturday 25 July 2020 (except lunch on Saturdays and Sundays).

  • Non-residential - £1,460
    Fees include tuition (2 seminars and the daily lecture programme); access to IT facilities and libraries; no accommodation; no meals, except the programme's formal opening and closing dinners on Sunday 5 July and Friday 24 July 2020, respectively.

There are no sources of funding (scholarships, bursaries, etc) available for applicants.

Invoicing and payment

Successful applicants who accept their offer of a place on the summer school will be invoiced for the appropriate programme fee once they have been formally enrolled on the programme.

Invoices will be emailed to students together with full instructions for payment. Fees may be paid online with a credit or debit card, or by bank transfer.

Students are required to pay the full fee within 30 days of the date on which their invoice was issued. Late applicants (see "Apply for this course", below) are required to pay the full fee within 7 days of their invoice date.

Please note that:

  • students are expected to take out vacation cancellation insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs (see "Cancellations", below);
  • a student's place on the summer school is not confirmed until their fees have been paid in full;
  • places will not be held for students whose fees are not paid in full by the due date; and
  • in no circumstances will students be admitted to the summer school unless all fees have been paid in full.

When you have paid your fees

Your place on the summer school is confirmed as soon as your payment is received by OUDCE.

You will receive a receipt for your payment: by email if paid online, or by post if paid by bank transfer.

If you are a non-EEA student you will receive a letter by post confirming your enrolment and course details which may be used to support your application for a short-term study visa: this letter will be sent by post (see "Level and demands", above).


All enrolments are subject to OUDCE's Short Selective Course Terms and Conditions.

A contract between OUDCE and a student comes into being when a student accepts an offer of a place on the summer school.

You have the right to cancel this contract at any time within 14 days, beginning on the day you accepted the offer.

Please be aware that if you cancel your place at any time after the expiry of the 14-day period you will not be entitled to a refund of the price paid for the summer school.

If you wish to cancel your place on the summer school you must inform the Programme Administrator by email at literaturesummer@conted.ox.ac.uk

You are expected to take out vacation cancellation insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs, and you should consult your travel agent and/or insurer for information and advice. OUDCE does not provide any insurance cover.

OUDCE reserves the right to alter details of any course should illness or any other emergency prevent a tutor from teaching, and to cancel a course or seminar if exceptionally low enrolment would make it educationally unviable.

The status of this course will be reviewed on 1 May 2020. If it is likely that individual seminars or the course may be cancelled, all those affected will be notified by email within 7 days, and possible options clearly explained.

If you have not heard from OUDCE by 8 May 2020, you should assume that the course and your seminars will be running; there is no need to contact us to confirm. You may wish to delay finalising your travel arrangements until after this date.

Course aims

Each seminar has its own course aim and objectives.

Teaching methods

Students will attend a lecture programme.

Elements of seminar teaching will normally include:

  • mini lectures by tutors;
  • tutor-led class discussions;
  • small group activities; and
  • individual student presentations.

Students will attend short tutorials with their tutors to receive feedback on their written work.

Learning outcomes

Each seminar has its own learning outcomes.

Assessment methods

Tutors will monitor and assess students’ contribution to class discussions.

Students are expected to submit an assignment of 2,000-3,000 words in length for assessment for each seminar taken.


Before you submit your application

  • ensure you meet the admissions requirements (see "Selection criteria", below);
  • check the seminar timetables carefully to ensure that your first and second choice courses do not run at the same time (applicants for graduate seminars only);
  • make sure you have all the required supporting documents listed below;
  • ensure you are familiar with the terms and conditions of enrolment on the summer school, especially those relating to payment of fees and cancellations (see "Payment", above); and
  • read the 'Important information regarding immigration and visa requirements' (see "Level and demands", below).

The application process

Download, print and complete the application form.

Please ensure all sections are completed fully, clearly, and in BLOCK CAPITALS.

The form must be accompanied by:

  • A brief statement of purpose (350-400 words) detailing your academic reasons for wishing to attend the summer school. This should include what you hope to get out of the programme, and what you are likely to contribute to the intellectual life of the summer school. This may include details of literature courses you have previously taken, or the relevance of the summer school to your present course of study or professional development. If you are applying for the graduate strand of the programme it is essential that you clearly state your reasons for wishing to enrol on specific seminars.
  • All of your official university transcripts. These must be in English.
  • In the case of non-native speakers of English, official evidence of English language competency.
  • A letter of recommendation, ideally from a person who knows your academic work, though in the case of those no longer engaged in courses of academic study, recommendations from other sources (eg your employer or head teacher) will be accepted. A reference from a family member is not acceptable. Please note that the letter of recommendation must refer specifically to your application to the Oxford University English Literature Summer School.
  • Four photographs (UK passport-sized - ie 4.5cm high x 3.5cm wide), with your full name printed on the back of each.

Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Applications should be posted to: English Literature Summer School, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK

You may wish to send your application by a courier service or registered post for speed and/or security of delivery.

We are currently unable to receive applications by email.

After you have submitted your application

You will receive an email from literaturesummer@conted.ox.ac.uk confirming receipt of your application materials, and informing you when your application will be reviewed by the admissions panel.

Application deadlines

This summer school operates a gathered field closing date system by which applications are reviewed fairly and equally in batches at specific dates throughout the admissions period rather than on a first come, first served or rolling basis.

There is a limited number of places available on every graduate-level course within each gathered field, and in assigning successful applicants to seminar groups the admissions panel will pay particular attention to applicants' personal statements.

There are three deadlines for applications:

  • Gathered field 1 - 15 January 2020
  • Gathered field 2 - 1 March 2020
  • Gathered field 3 - 15 April 2020

Subject to the availability of places, late applications may be considered on a first come, first served basis until 15 May 2020.

Notification of the admission panel's decision

Applicants will normally be notified of the panel's decision by email from literaturesummer@conted.ox.ac.uk within 14 days of the relevant gathered field deadline.

Applicants who are offered a place on the summer school must respond in writing within 14 days to accept or decline the offer. In accepting an offer of a place applicants are committing to paying their programme fees in full by the due date.

Late applicants will be notified within 7 days of their materials having been received, and successful applicants will then have 7 days in which to accept or decline the offer of a place.


Students will be formally enrolled on the summer school once they have accepted their offer of a place.

The enrolment process includes the issuing of invoices, which will be emailed to students together with full instructions for payment (see "Payment", above).

Further course information

Students will receive the following information by email from literaturesummer@conted.ox.ac.uk prior to the summer school:

  • In March 2020 - academic and course information, including detailed course content and required preparatory reading
  • In March 2020 - joining instructions, containing a wealth of practical information to assist students as they prepare to travel to to the summer school (eg how to get to Oxford, arrangements at Exeter College)
  • In April 2020 - details of the lecture programme
  • In May 2020 - details of the social programme
  • In June 2020 - confirmation of arrival day arrangements.

Any queries?

Please contact the Programme Administrator by email at literaturesummer@conted.ox.ac.uk

Level and demands

Participants are expected to

  • undertake preparatory reading in advance of the programme;
  • attend all seminar sessions and lectures;
  • be actively engaged with their seminar topics;
  • submit an assignment of 2,000-3,000 words in length for each seminar taken; and
  • undertake approximately 96 hours of private study during the programme (elements of private study will include: reading and other preparation between seminar meetings, work in libraries, writing papers, etc).

Important information regarding immigration and visa requirements

Please note: The information in this section is correct as at December 2019, but may change following the departure of the UK from the European Union (EU). We anticipate that, if changes are made, it is most likely that EEA and Swiss national students will need to follow the same immigration rules as non-EEA nationals. We do not expect any changes to the short-term study visa itself, but this is not guaranteed. We will update you as soon as we have further details. In the meantime, up to date information regarding arrangements following the exit of the UK from the EU, is available on the UK Council for International Student Affairs website.

If you are an European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss national you do not need a visa to enter the UK to participate in the summer school. You are free to enter the UK as long as you show your EEA or Swiss passport on arrival.

If you are not an EEA or Swiss national, you may need to apply for a visa to enter the UK depending on which passport you hold.

If the system shows that you require a visa: you should apply for a short-term study visa, which allows students over the age of 18 to study either part-time or full-time for up to 6 months in the UK.

If the system shows that you do not require a visa: you will still need to bring certain documents to show at the border in order to be admitted as a short-term student.

If you are not an EEA or Swiss national we strongly recommend that you establish whether you will require a visa before submitting your application. Please check current visa processing times to find out how long getting a visa might take in the country you are applying from. You should ensure your summer school application is submitted as early as possible to allow yourself sufficient time to complete the visa application process.

The Programme Administrator will provide all non-EEA students with a standard format letter by post confirming enrolment and course details once their fees have been paid in full.

For legal reasons the Programme Administrator is not permitted to provide any visa advice to applicants: all such enquiries should be submitted to Oxford University’s student visa and immigration advisers via email at student.immigration@admin.ox.ac.uk

It is your responsibility to ensure that you have taken the necessary steps to enable you to be admitted to the UK. The university takes no responsibility for a visa being denied at any point before or during a course.

Please note that the standard cancellation policy applies in all cases. (See "Cancellations", above.)

Disabled students (including those with mobility difficulties)

The aim of Oxford University Department for Continuing Education (OUDCE) is to treat all students equally and welcomes applications from people with disabilities. Individuals' needs are taken into account as far as possible, providing reasonable adaptations and assistance within the resources available. We ask that people let us know of any disability or special need (confidentially if required) so that we can help them participate as fully as possible.

When applying for OUDCE's college-based summer schools, prospective students with mobility difficulties or visual or hearing impairments may want to make preliminary enquiries to the Programme Administrator, as the age and layout of these colleges often makes them user-unfriendly (although adaptations are often possible). Oxford, as an ancient city, tends to be difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. The number of very old buildings, designed in an age less sensitive to issues of disability, makes access to much of the city centre difficult. However, OUDCE will do as much as it is able to make study with the department possible.

Applicants should contact us if they will have problems gaining access to a bedroom or a teaching room that is located on upper or basement floors, or to the college dining hall (which is reached via a flight of stairs).

Selection criteria

This is an intensive programme of study taught to an informed international audience.

Applicants should be confident that they are academically and linguistically prepared for such a programme.

Academic requirements

All applicants are required to provide evidence of prior serious engagement with English literature.

For the main (graduate) programme applications are welcomed from:

  • graduates with a subject-appropriate academic background; and
  • teachers of English literature in schools and colleges.

For the undergraduate strand applications are welcomed from:

  • senior undergraduates who have completed at least two years of a full-time university degree programme in English literature.

English language requirements

As students are expected to participate fully in seminar discussions and are required to produce written work it is important that applicants can demonstrate an appropriate level of proficiency in the four language skills - listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Applicants for whom English is not their first language must provide evidence of their competency in the form of an original certificate or a certified copy that is not more than two years old on the date the summer school starts. These applicants must satisfy one of the following requirements:

  • IELTS Academic - minimum overall score of 6.5, with not less than 6.5 in each of the four components
  • TOEFL iBT - minimum overall score of 100, with not less than 25 in each of the four components
  • Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) - grade C or above.

For further information on English language qualifications:

However, non-native speakers of English who have successfully completed a full-time degree-level programme at a university where English is the language of instruction or who have significant business and professional experience in an English-speaking environment may not need to provide a certificate of English language qualification. Please contact the Programme Administrator for further details.



Founded in 1314, Exeter College is one of Oxford University's oldest colleges and is situated in a prime city centre location.

Bedrooms and meals

Students who choose to attend the summer school on a residential basis will have a single study bedroom.

Bedrooms are located up the four to nine floors of a staircase; bath and/or shower and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. A limited number of rooms have private bathroom facilities (shower and toilet) and these are available for a higher fee. Early application for these rooms is essential.

Students cannot be accommodated at Exeter College either prior to or beyond their programme dates. Family members and/or friends who are not enrolled on this summer school cannot be accommodated in college.

Residential students will take meals in the college's dining hall. All meals are self-service with a range of options available. The only exceptions are the summer school's opening and closing dinners, which are formal served set menu meals. Should applicants have any dietary requirements (eg vegetarian, gluten-free) they are required to complete the relevant section on the application form.

Please be aware that accommodation at Exeter College is limited and may not be available for those who submit their applications towards the end of the admissions period.

Non-residential students

Students who choose to attend the summer school on a non-residential basis are responsible for finding their own accommodation. Information on accommodation in Oxford is available at:

No meals are provided for non-residential students, except the summer school's opening and closing dinners.

IT requirements

Although it is not required, most students bring a laptop to Oxford to assist them with their studies.

For residential students, wireless internet access is available in all bedrooms; for all students, wireless access is available in communal spaces of the college.

All students will be eligible to use the computers and printer in Exeter College's computer room.