LIT3064 : Before the Novel: from Arthur to Aphra

Convener(s): Dr Rachel Stenner


General Information

Innovation and the evolution of a new genre form the core of this module. Before the novel there was prose fiction and in the early modern period prose fiction was a radical, experimental and, to many, a threatening kind of writing. We will read a range of fictions from the late fifteenth century to the late seventeenth century including excerpts from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur (the first English prose collection of Arthurian material), William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat (a satire about speaking felines seen by some as the first novel), and The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (the first known work of original fiction by a woman). These texts are interested in questions of sexuality, gender, love, colonialism, exploration, war, mercantilism, the creation of fantasy worlds and the reassessment of their own societies. The thread that links our reading will be close attention to style and the authorship, reception and circulation of prose fiction as a form. The module will begin by exploring theories of the novel's development in the early eighteenth century. Through our readings we will then consider the nature of the prose fictions that came before the novel. A large part of the module will address female authorship; by reading three important prose texts by early women writers (Lady Mary Wroth, Aphra Behn and Margaret Cavendish), we will ask why prose fiction was a productive type of literature for women to write.

These are some of the texts we may cover:

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur (1485)
Sir Thomas More, Utopia (1516)
William Baldwin, Beware the Cat (c. 1552)
George Gascoigne, The Adventures of Master F.J. (1573)
John Lyly, Euphues (1578)
Sir Philip Sidney, Arcadia (c. 1580)
Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller (1594)
Lady Mary Wroth, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (1621)
Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World (1666)
Aphra Behn, The Fair Jilt (1688)


1 seminar of an hour a week

1 workshop session of an hour a week (1 of these will be a visit to Special Collections in Western Bank Library to examine early copies of works of prose fiction owned by the University)


10% - weekly MOLE posts of 200 words (close-reading responses to the texts)

10% - collaborative group research presentation

10% - abstract and research bibliography for research essay

70% - 3,000 word research essay

Contact Details

0114 2220193

Information last changed: Thursday 28th of April 2016 :: 04:53:28 PM (BST)

Please note: This module may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course convener.


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK