Singapore University of Social Sciences

Topics in Modernism

Topics in Modernism (ELT379)


Through their aesthetic techniques, politics, and ideas, modernist writers responded to the advent of the twentieth century in radical and innovative ways. Topics in Modernism introduces students to a range of writings, both fictional and non-fictional, as well as some examples from the visual arts, from around the first quarter of the century (1908-1924). Modernism was a multimedia enterprise, developing across various arts, political thought, and the sciences, as well as in literature. Thus Study Unit 1 conveys the diversity of modernism as it is represented firstly in painting, and then in the essays and writings of a number of critics, scientists, and psychologists. These contexts provide the foundation for the remainder of the course, which studies the ways in which three British and Irish writers, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce, provided their unique response to modernism. Study Unit 2 examines Forster’s late modernist novel A Passage to India, exploring the ways in which through his presentation of a racial and multicultural conflict Forster taps into deeper modernist concerns with realism and ethics. Study Unit 3 looks at the different genre of the short story, a form which reached its apotheosis during the modernist period. Whereas Forster focuses on the foreign land of India, Woolf and Joyce represent their local cities and domestic environments. Yet within these homely and cosmopolitan spaces they create fictions that articulate the new ways in which the self was perceived within society in the first part of the twentieth century.

Level: 3
Credit Units: 5
Presentation Pattern: Every January
E-Learning: BLENDED - Learning is done MAINLY online using interactive study materials in Canvas. Students receive guidance and support from online instructors via discussion forums and emails. This is supplemented with SOME face-to-face sessions. If the course has an exam component, this will be administered on-campus.


  • Study Unit 1: Chapter 1: The Modern and Modernism
  • Study Unit 2: Chapter 2: The Modernist Mind
  • Study Unit 2: Chapter 1: The Politics of Modernism in A Passage to India
  • Study Unit 2: Chapter 2: The Illusion of A Passage to India
  • Study Unit 3: Chapter 1: The Modernist Self—Virginia Woolf’s Short Stories
  • Study Unit 3: Chapter 2: The Modernist City—James Joyce’s Dubliners

Learning Outcome

  • Show, through careful examination of texts, the characteristic literary styles and thematic concerns of modern prose writing (along with brief examples from the visual arts) from 1908 to 1924. (B3)
  • Examine the influence of critical, scientific, psychological, and social movements upon literary writing of the period. (B4)
  • Analyse the use of literary techniques such as free indirect style, narrative point of view, symbolism, genre, and epiphany in writing of the period. (B4)
  • Formulate a critical overview of the effectiveness of different modernist literary modes in responding to the major concerns of the period. (B5)
  • Demonstrate analysis of the motives and methods employed in modernist writing and aesthetics. (B3)
  • Compose structured academic essays that employ the appropriate skills in scholarly research, critical evaluation, and proper citation. (B5)
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