The Modern American Novel: An Introduction (Online)


Some of the most wonderful fiction in English is by American writers. In this course we shall study five key novels of the 20th century. by Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Silko, Morrison and Roth, that constitute contrasting interpretations of American experience in the modern age.

Listen to Dr Tessa Roynon talking about the course:

We shall examine the representation of history, region and family conflict in William Faulkner's depiction of the poverty-stricken Deep South in As I Lay Dying (1930), in Leslie Marmon Silko's exploration of modern Pueblo Indian experience in Ceremony (1987) and in Toni Morrison's examination of slavery in Beloved (1987).

We shall also analyse fictional accounts of personal aspiration and downfall that explore questions of individual and national identity in the modern age: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) and Philip Roth's American Pastoral (1998). Our studies will focus on the relationship between the literary techniques of these works and on their social and political concerns.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Image: The cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and Damned", W.E.Hill ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Programme details

1.  Reading and writing America: Some introductions.

2.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

3.  William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

4.  Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony - I

5.  Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony - II

6.  Toni Morrison, Beloved - I

7.  Toni Morrison, Beloved - II

8.  Philip Roth, American Pastoral - I

9.  Philip Roth, American Pastoral - II

10. The great American novel?


We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £324.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Jurrit Daalder

Jurrit Daalder completed his doctorate on postwar American fiction at Oxford University in 2017, and he is currently a lecturer in American literature at the University of Göttingen, Germany. His most recent publications include chapters in George Saunders: Critical Essays (2017) and The Cambridge Companion to David Foster Wallace (forthcoming 2018). In June 2018, he will take up a one-year visiting fellowship at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

Course aims

This course will enable participants to:

  • Acquire both an overview and detailed knowledge of six novels that exemplify the diversity of American experience and narrative form in the twentieth century.
  • Consider each novel's engagement with its specific historical and cultural contexts.
  • Develop their skills in analysing a range of narrative techniques such as multiple and unreliable narrative voices, disrupted chronologies and recurring symbolism. There is ample scope for applying skills and concepts learned from other online literature courses offered by the Department.
  • Discuss the texts comparatively, in relation to other American fiction they have read, and in the context of on-going debates about 'great American novels'.
  • Contribute to a group reading list and to keep a personal reading blog.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Guided use of existing websites
  • Discussions of particular issues and responses to reading in the unit forums
  • Close critical analyses of selected extracts from the texts studied

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you will understand:

  • The diversity of American experience and its representation in literary form.
  • The history and context with which the novels studied engage.
  • The effects of a range of narrative techniques.
  • The reasons why specific texts might be defined as 'modernist' or 'postmodernist'.
  • Past and current scholarly and media-led debates about American fiction.

You will have developed the following skills:

  • To identify the principal themes and narrative techniques in a range of novels.
  • To make a case for the relationship between subject-matter and form in each novel.
  • To analyze reviews and scholarly essays and to engage with these in personal critical analyses.
  • To reflect on a range of novels comparatively.
  • To gain an overview of developments in American fiction over time.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.