It is relatively easy to talk about your favourite book, and perhaps easier to discuss other people’s ideas on books. The aim of a literature dissertation is to read a little deeper into the themes and interests that grab you when reading, and to contextualise these ideas within the larger cultural movements of the time. Literature reflects so many ideas and concerns of writers throughout the ages: these ranges from academic concerns, such as philosophy, psychology and sociology, to imaginative and religious inclinations. You can write about anything, but to make it different it should be something that interests and challenges you. To give you some further idea of what you could be reading or researching for your language and literature dissertation, this article has suggested topics in the areas of seventeenth century literature, eighteenth century literature, nineteenth century literature, twentieth century literature and children’s literature.
2.0 Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Literature
Both these eras witnessed changing political and social conditions, which were popularised and discussed by writers. Satire and circumstance were particularly popular, and authors often used literature as a way to pass controversial comment on society – often using complex metaphor. Theological imagery and themes were often used, as well as themes of exploration. Ideas for your language and literature dissertation include:
- Milton and the Bible.
- Paradise Lost and the Fall from Grace: A closer look at redemption poetry of the seventeenth century.
- The Genesis Myth and popular literature of the seventeenth century.
- Love, loss and the geographical imagination in the poetry of John Donne.
- The first literary Explorers: How new discoveries shaped the literary imagination of the seventeenth century.
- Stendhal and the onset of consumerism.
- Visions of nature: Wordsworth and the Eighteenth Century poetical imagination.
- Interiors and interiority in the eighteenth century novel.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the problem of the aesthetic.
- The origins of the novel.
3.0 Nineteenth Century
The nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented growth in urban landscapes, city living and industrialisation. Rural economies both suffered and benefited during the Industrial Revolution, and many writers mourned the loss of traditional ways of life. Perhaps more than any other century, the nineteenth witnessed the greatest degree of change in terms of religious, moral, and social ideals. In an age that became increasingly secular, literature tried to compensate for the associated loss of meaning. When Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859 it began to be more widely understood that the earth had a much greater history than previously imagined, and that humankind had developed from apes was, to many Victorians, an unsettling and threatening concept. The literature of the time thus expresses concerns of alienation, insignificance and religious doubt, and seeks to provide answers to questions that arose through new scientific discoveries. Nineteenth century literature provides many topics that you could write upon for your language and literature dissertation.
- Love and loss in Thomas Hardy’s poems 1912-13.
- Recovering the buried life: visionary aspiration in the poetry of Matthew Arnold.
- Love and communication in the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
- Bulwer-Lytton and the metaphysical tradition.
- George Eliot and religious doubt.
- Naturalist and mystic: Discovering the source of Richard Jefferies’ inspiration.
- Searching for the simple life: Rustic writing in the nineteenth century.
- A Study of provincial life: Trollope writing after Austen.
- The importance of costume in the work of Dickens.
- Micro and macro: Understanding the power relations in The Old Curiosity Shop and Bleak House.
- Sex and violence in sensation fiction,
- The changing religious imagination of the nineteenth century.
- How politics changed literature in the nineteenth century.
- Gender representation in the gothic novel.
- The changing meaning of the Victorian family in the work of Gaskell.
- Ruskin and heritage.
4.0 Twentieth Century
Literature of the twentieth century includes a wide variety of thematic and stylistic approaches. This was the era when poetic style and technique became as equally expressive and experimental as that of novels. Modernism at the beginning of the century sought to break away from the conditions imposed upon literature by the Victorians, and this surge was soon to be shaped and unrecognisably altered by the occurrence of the two World Wars. From the fifties onwards, literature, more than ever, sought ways in which to understand the human condition and ways to explain behaviour and emotional inclinations. These range from psychoanalysis to diary writing, and offer a very rich range of topics to choose from for your language and literature dissertation:
- “Heaving into Uncreated Space”: D.H Lawrence after Hardy.
- Visionary closure in the twentieth century novel.
- W.H Auden and poetic syntax.
- Comprehending the War: Ivor Gurney and the new poetic form.
- Water imagery in the work of Virginia Woolf.
- ‘Is there anything more to be Found?’: T.S Eliot and the Wasteland.
- Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney: A study of similarity and contrast.
- ‘Daring to break convention’: The tragedy of Sylvia Plath.
- Time and Space in The Time Machine and The Island of Dr Moreau.
- Alduous Huxley and the search for the ‘Other’.
- Discussing the notion of being in the work of Milan Kundara.
- A study of character and identity in the work of Ian McEwan.
- Freud and early modernism.
- Circular narrative structure in the work of May Sinclair.
- Experiments in Form: Joyce and the twentieth century.
- Bernard Malumud and Jewish writing.
- Magic and fantasy in the work of Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Kipling’s India.
- Jack Kerouac and travel writing.
5.0 Interdisciplinary Subjects
Literature intersects with many areas of study, including philosophy, architecture, religion, sociology, and politics. Interdisciplinary study is more than placing literature within the context of another discipline – to be truly interdisciplinary researchers should use research from more than one subject, and even examine the benefits and drawbacks in studying more than one discipline. The following lists of topics reflects these suggestions, and are possibilities for your language and literature dissertation:
- Architecture in the work of Thomas Hardy.
- Science and the nineteenth-century novel.
- Interpreting the space age: Literature of the twenty first century.
- Astronomy and the poetic imagination of the nineteenth century.
- Why philosophy matters to literature.
- Crossing the disciplinary boundaries: English literature and archaeology.
- Changing political relations in novels since 1900.
- The interrelation of science and the arts since 1900.
- Psychology and the modern novel.
- Seeking the self: Psychology in twenty first century literature.
- Darwin and the evolutionary narrative.
- The importance of history in deciphering the modern text.
6.0 Literature, Identity and Place
The themes of identity and place have been concurrent throughout literary history. Apart from using landscape as a source of inspiration, authors often need landscapes to help contextualise and identify their characters. Ranges of narrative techniques associated with landscape are used in novels to portray the inner feelings of characters. Identity is closely related to, and often described as being a product, of place and its cultural associations. Therefore a study in this subject can be useful in other areas of future research and offers an accessible, adaptable and relevant topic for your language and literature dissertation.
- Changing landscapes: how the rural/urban divide has been represented since 1900.
- Travel writing in the twentieth century.
- The importance of place to the eighteenth century poet.
- The changing portrayal of city living since 1900.
- Nature, narrative, and verse since 1940.
- Thomas Hardy and Wessex.
- Richard Jefferies’ Wiltshire.
- The Lake District as setting in poems of the eighteenth century.
- The Mountain as a symbol in the nineteenth century.
- Landscape and identity in Lesley Glaister’s Honour Thy Father.
- Writing in the desert: Narratives of Africa.
- The sense of place in colonial literature.
- The importance of the sea in twentieth century literature.
- Cornish landscapes in the work of Thomas Hardy.
- D.H Lawrence and the Sussex Landscape.
- Dylan Thomas and the Sea.
- Ted Hughes and the Yorkshire Moors.
- John Fowles at Lyme Regis.
- Charles Kingsley and ‘ Westward Ho! ‘.
- Representations of the Wealden Forest in Literature since 1800.
- The beach as a site for change in literature since 1900.
7.0 Children’s literature
Writing for children involves the effective use of imagination, wittiness and often, the sensitive and dynamic use of tradition. As a result, children’s literature is often imbued with complex themes and imagery, which speaks to adults and children on separate yet conducive levels. When choosing a topic to write about on children’s literature it can be useful to target a specific age range to avoid making generalisations and to help recognise the differing levels of academic competence associated with different children’s ages. In this subject there are often strong themes, which have been recurrent over many decades. The following are some ideas that you could use for your language and literature dissertation:
- What makes an Epic?: A discussion of favourite children’s novels since 1900.
- Fabulous Beasts: Imagery in J.K. Rowling and Tolkien.
- Discovering Wonderland: Narrative technique and visionary insight in the work of Robert Louis Stevenson.
- The search for Utopia in Island Stories for children.
- Beatrix Potter and the significance of illustration.
- Animals and their function in children’s literature since 1900.
- Hans Christian Anderson and the meaning of the fairytale.
- Why humour matters in children’s literature.
- Roald Dahl, the ridiculous and the sublime.
- Enid Blyton and the popular adventure story.
- A historical analysis of the origins of children’s literature.
- The importance of names in children’s literature.
- Reading to the under fives: What makes it interesting?
- Helping children to learn through storybooks.
- What the Victorians read to their children.
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