Course: Making Modern Literature

HC 222H

Professor: Louise Bishop

Bruno Latour writes, “We have never been modern.”  What does the word modern mean?  What does the word literature mean?  We will interrogate the words “modern" and "literature" quite closely. We will also consider the generic constraints affecting poetic, prose, and dramatic (stage and screen) representations of modernity. What makes modernity interesting? Compelling? Accurate? Meaningful? Truthful? Real?


  • The novel Princess of Cleves (1678) by Madame de Lafayette (originally published anonymously), which re-imagines the court of Henry II of France in the mid-sixteenth century
  • Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (1859), his novel based on Carlyle's The French Revolution
  • Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928), providing (among other things) a history of English letters from the reign of Queen Elizabeth to the 1920s
  • The play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, a re-imagination of the life of Lord Byron layered with his (fictional) modern biographers
  • Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen, which re-imagines the meeting between Nils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1940's Denmark
  • And The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, set during the Naxalite political movement in 1960s Kerala, the most southern state in India and the only state in the world with a freely-elected Communist government.

Work for the term includes response papers, article summaries and responses, graded formal papers, class presentations, and a final exam. Opportunities include some film viewing