Modern European Fiction

Module code: EN3159

Module co-ordinator: Dr Mark Rawlinson

In this module, you'll read twentieth-century European fiction from France, Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union, including works by Franz Kafka, Mikhail Bulgakov, Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Italo Calvino, and Primo Levi. We'll explore the way the novel as a genre develops beyond nineteenth-century realism, and consider how fiction reflects historical change and crisis -- such as modernity, the dissolution of empire, and war -- as well as the ways in which novels can be vehicles for feelings (longing, boredom) and ideas (aestheticism, existentialism). However, we will not only be addressing texts as historical artifacts: we will also seek to discover their relevance to our own preoccupations.

This module complements other School of English modules on modern and postmodern developments in narrative fiction in Britain and Ireland (EN3030 Victorian to Modern: Literature 1870-1945 and EN3040 Post-War to Postmodern: Literature 1945-Present Day).

Works likely to be on the list of set texts include:

  • Franz Kafka, The Trial (Penguin)
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (Penguin)
  • Joseph Roth, The Radetsky March (Granta)
  • Thomas Mann, Death in Venice (Vintage)
  • Andre Gide, The Counterfeiters (Penguin)
  • Jean Paul Sartre, Nausea (Penguin)
  • Albert Camus, The Outsider (Penguin)
  • Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (Vintage)
  • Primo Levi, The Periodic Table (Penguin)

Although a number of these are quite short, none are quick reads: all are aesthetically and intellectually challenging.


The module consists of weekly two-hour seminars supported by extensive private reading and guided preparation. By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Read narrative fiction critically and reflect on its significance as an examination of life and thought
  • Describe, interpret, and evaluate the thematic and formal properties of European novels of the twentieth century
  • Identify and explain the place of specific narratives in the development of the twentieth-century novel and of twentieth-century ideas
  • Construct clear, reasoned, and well-evidenced arguments comparing and contrasting the novels studied


  • An essay of not more than 5,000 words in answer to a question selected from a list provided by the module tutor; students will normally be expected to write on at least two of the novels studied