Literature Dissertation Topics

The opportunity for you to demonstrate your critical writing skills and ability to manage existing scholarship, a literature dissertation allows you to make your mark on the world of academia. Much longer than a typical essay, the extensive nature of a literature dissertation allows you to examine a specific text and explain its significance, and how it relates to broader literary movements.

The choice of texts that you engage with is up to you, but you should bear in mind that you’ll get higher grades for an original dissertation. As literature is influenced by and in discourse with other disciplines, a dissertation in this field will often mean that you’ll refer to ideas found in philosophy, religion, psychology and other art forms. To help you get started with your dissertation, this article will suggest possible topics in the areas of seventeenth century literature, eighteenth century literature, nineteenth century literature, twentieth century literature, and children’s literature.


Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Literature Dissertation Topics

From the shifting social and political climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries emerged a whole new kind of fiction. Indeed, with the birth of the novel came a host of writers who used the form to obliquely commentate on the world around them. Using established literary strategies such as plot and metaphor, writers also began to experiment with interior monologues and innovative dramatic devices to express their ideas to readers. For provoking and relevant subjects for your literature dissertation, consider the following topics:

  • Milton and the Bible.
  • Paradise Lost and the Fall from Grace: A closer look at the 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.
  • How Paradise Lost shaped the future of the novel.
  • The female voice: How girls became women in seventeenth century fiction.
  • How and why Laurence Sterne exposed the artifices of fiction.

Nineteenth Century Literature Dissertation Topics

Responding to the fall of the pastoral and the rise of industry, the English literature of the nineteenth century reflects the drastic changes Britain underwent around this time. Celebrating new ways of living whilst mourning the past, novels and poetry became distinctly national in nature. At the same time, writers examined the effects that secularisation had on the individual and their view of life. Indeed, whilst meaning was a fixed concept for people in centuries gone by, radical scientific advancement and an increased religious doubt caused Victorians to consider their place in the world from a wholly different perspective. For these reasons, the nineteenth century in literature is a period defined by alienation, doubt, and, overall, the question of what it means to live in an increasingly unfamiliar world. Nineteenth century literature provides many topics that you could study for a 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.
  • How Realism emerged in nineteenth century literature.
  • Reading the romance: how the Bronte sisters redefined the novel.
  • How Frankenstein anticipated Science Fiction.

Twentieth Century Literature Dissertation Topics

An era defined by significant aesthetic and philosophical shifts; the twentieth century produced some of the most remarkable literature. Indeed, with the boundaries between prose and poetry being disrupted, a whole new kind of expression became available to writers of fiction and verse. A century marked by two major traditions, the first fifty years was given over to modernism, whilst the latter half of the century saw the emergence of postmodernism. Whilst these two literary movements are seemingly opposed to one another, both attempted to express a range of ideas related to psychology, philosophy, and society. For this reason, you may consider the following topics for your 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.
  • A study of the similarities and differences between modernism and postmodernism.
  • How postmodernism attempted to destroy the novel.
  • Lost in the Funhouse: How John Barth exposed the artifices of fiction.

Interdisciplinary Subjects Dissertation Topics

Literature intersects with many areas of study, including philosophy, architecture, religion, sociology, art, history, and politics. Interdisciplinary study is more than placing literature within the context of another discipline – true interdisciplinary research yields insights into the techniques, themes and contexts of texts that can’t be fully understood using the disciplinary tools of literary study alone. Interdisciplinary dissertations use research from more than one subject and examine the benefits and limitations both of literary study and of the other discipline. The topics in the following list reflect these aims, 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.
  • Memory and perspective in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.
  • Seeking the self: Psychology in twenty first century literature.
  • Darwin and the evolutionary narrative.
  • The importance of history in deciphering the modern text.
  • Sister Arts: contemporary poetry and painting. Poststructuralist views of language and the postmodern text.
  • Print culture, mass distribution, and their effects on the literature of the Renaissance.
  • A sociolinguistic analysis of The Twilight series.

Identity and Place in the Literature Dissertation Topics

The themes of identity and place have been intertwined in many literary periods and genres. Apart from using landscape as a source of inspiration, authors often need landscapes to help contextualise and develop their characters. Narrative techniques associated with landscape are often used in novels to portray the inner lives 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.
  • What were the effects of ‘Enclosure’ on the poetry of the Romantics?
  • The importance of place to the Romantic 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.
  • Identity, place, and narrative in postcolonial literature.
  • The importance of the sea in colonial exploration narratives.
  • 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.
  • Of Bawn and Bog: the Irish troubles and the North in Seamus Heaney’s poetry.
  • 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.
  • Citizens of nowhere: dislocation and globalisation in post-9/11 fiction.
  • Wilderness and settler nationhood in North American fiction and poetry.

Children’s Literature Dissertation Topics

Writing for children involves the effective use of imagination, humour 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 complementary and intersecting 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. It’s also helpful to understand what is at stake in society’s understanding of what makes for appropriate children’s literature, which goes to the heart of what – and how – we teach our children. Children’s literature addresses universal themes that concern all readers – not just children. The challenge in pursuing a dissertation in children’s literature is therefore to address both the universality of the themes and the specificity of the audience. 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.
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery and the development of the young artist.
  • 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: developing imaginations and relationships.
  • Helping children to learn through storybooks.
  • What the Victorians read to their children.
  • Think of the children! What banning books for the young tells us about the importance and social contexts of reading.
  • Representations of disability in young adult literature.

Postcolonialism and Literature Dissertation Topics

Postcolonialism is one of the most influential theories in academia. If you are interested in critical perspectives that touch upon issues of race, belonging, power, politics, and emancipation, then you might want to bring postcolonial perspectives into your dissertation. Here are some titles to consider:

  • Exploring the ‘Other’ in Victorian fiction.
  • Postcolonialism in Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival.
  • How has the Black Lives Matter movement influenced contemporary black literature?
  • A postcolonial reading of contemporary refugee literature.
  • Postcolonialism and climate change literature.
  • A postcolonial reading of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
  • Postcolonial narratives in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

Eco Literature Dissertation Topics

‘Ecocriticism’ studies the relationship between literature and the natural world. It is a fast-growing area of study, fuelled mainly by the increased concern over climate-change and environmental protectionism. If you are interested in the natural world, you might feel inspired to write a dissertation in this area. You could choose to do a close-reading of a book that deals with the themes of nature. Or you might analyse if/how ecocritical books have inspired real-life environmental activism. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Exploring the intersection between eco and spiritual narratives in Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard.
  • An eco-critical reading of poetry from the Romantics.
  • Vegan narratives in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy.
  • Ecocriticism as vegan/climate change activism?
  • Exploring the relevance of Thoreau’s Walden in 2021.
  • Exploring the effect of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring on US activism.
  • Covid-19, eco-criticism and the contemporary novel.

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