Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
Three other MA option modules
Good honours degree

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 10 Hours. Seminar. (5 X 2 hours)


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. Where this involves re-submission of work, a new topic must be selected. 

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module students should typically be able to:

1. demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the texts studied on the module, and a specialist knowledge of the broader critical and theoretical issues associated with the study of modern literature and consumer culture;

2. demonstrate this understanding and knowledge in an extended critical and analytical essay that makes reference to the cultural and historical contexts of the text(s) under review;

3. produce organized, coherently argued, and critically informed written work.


This module aims:

1. to provide a focused overview of literary responses to the rise of consumer culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries;

2. to locate these literary responses in their historical and cultural contexts;

3. to allow students to gain experience in the practical application of critical / cultural theory to the interpretation and analysis of texts.

Brief description

What is retail therapy? Why is shopping fun? Where does desire end and ideology begin in a world of mass consumption? Engaging with such questions, this module explores how writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sought to represent and come to terms with the rise of consumer culture. Moving through the naturalism of Emile Zola and Theodore Dreiser to the modernism of Joseph Conrad and Aldous Huxley, we will focus in particular on the impact of consumerism on narrative vision and literary practice.

_Seminar Programme

_1. The rise of consumer culture
Themes for discussion: what is consumerism? historical and social background, cultural conditions, material forms, literary responses.
Main text: David Hawkes, Ideology

_2. Shopping for Pleasure
Themes for discussion: flanerie, fetishism, desire, spectacle, exhibition, gender and seduction.
Main text: Emile Zola, The Ladies' Paradise

_3. The Metropolis on Display
Themes for discussion: urban growth, metropolitan culture, predatory consumers, domesticity, gender and performance.
Main text: Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

_4. Decadence and Decay
Themes for discussion: urban space, constructing time, anarchy, pornography, gender and politics.
Main text: Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

_5. Everything for Sale
Themes for discussion: dystopias, mass culture, consumer psychology, discourse, agency, subjectivity.
Main text: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

_Set Texts
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent (Penguin Classics)
Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (Penguin Classics)
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Penguin)
Emile Zola, The Ladies Paradise (Oxford World's Classics)
David Hawkes, Ideology (Routledge, 1996)

_Select Bibliography
Rachel Bowlby, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing and Zola (Methuen, 1985)
Rachel Bowlby, Shopping With Freud (Routledge, 1993)
Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918 (Harvard UP, 1983)
Deborah L. Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City and Modernity (Oxford UP, 2000)
Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle 1851-1914 (Verso, 1991)
Randall Stevenson, Modernist Fiction (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992)


This module is at CQFW Level 7