About the course
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing”. Reading, as Harper Lee identifies in To Kill a Mockingbird, is an intuitive part of being human. We learn to read as children and we go on reading – for education, for information, and for joy – throughout our lives. Literature at Essex offers a comprehensive exploration of that age-old love affair, between an avid reader and a good book.
Our BA English Literature deepens your understanding of how literature shapes, and is shaped by, the world around it. This course will encourage you to form your own critical response and ask all of the right questions. For example, whose voices are over-represented? How do periods of cultural or political instability affect what gets written? What can we tell about a text, from the relationship between characters, money, and power?
We provide a solid grounding in the chronology of literary history, and an exploration of how stories travel from country to country across time. The beginning of your course will be highly focused on an introduction to literature, and you will have the opportunity to study everything from the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare, to writing published in the last year.
The second year is about developing ways to explore and criticise that literature. You will explore a wide range of topics such as:
- US Literature
- Early Modern Literature
- European Literature
- Literature in the Victorian period
The final year is all about you. By this time, you know what the work of a literary critic is, what approaches to criticism you prefer, and which periods in history you’re itching to know more about. Whether it’s the solitary figure in the modern city, or the rural poverty of the Southern USA, you will work in small seminar groups, with academics who are world-class experts in the particular field you’re studying.
Your degree in literature takes place in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, which is home to a variety of Academic disciplines. You will have the opportunity to benefit from seminars, lectures and events from all the disciplines available in the department. These include film studies, drama and theatre studies, creative writing and journalism.
“Studying literature at Essex has been very helpful to me, and should definitely aid me in my future career teaching in a primary school. My passion for reading and literature has been taken new heights at Essex, and I hope to share the same passion for literature with children and encourage reading in the way that I have been encouraged.”
Claire Tye, BA English Literature, 2011
Your education extends beyond the University campus. We support you extending your education by providing the option of an additional year at no extra cost. The four-year version of our degree allows you to spend the third year studying abroad or employed on a placement, while otherwise remaining identical to the three-year course.
Studying abroad also allows you to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised.
When you arrive at Essex, you can decide whether you would like to combine your course with a placement year. You will be responsible for finding your placement, but with support and guidance provided by both your department and our Employability and Careers Centre.
Our expert staff
At Essex, we have an impressive literary legacy. Our history comprises staff (and students) who have been Nobel Prize winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners.
Our Department are committed to unlocking creative personal responses to literature. This distinctive environment is possible because we are a community of award-winning novelists, poets and playwrights, as well as leading literature specialists.
Our academic staff specialise in a range of areas including modernism, comparative and world literature, Shakespeare, the Renaissance, travel writing, nature writing, translated literature, cultural geography, Irish and Scottish writing, U.S. and Caribbean literature, and the history of reading.
- Meet fellow readers at the student-run Literature Society or at the department’s Myth Reading Group
- Hear writers talk about their craft and learn from leading literature specialists at the Essex Book Festival
- Write for our student media platform Rebel
- View classic films at weekly film screenings in our dedicated 120-seat film theatre
- Learn from leading writers and literature specialists at weekly research seminars
- Our Research Laboratory allows you to collaborate with professionals, improvising and experimenting with new work which is being tried and tested
A good literature degree opens many doors.
The number of careers that lead from courses in literature is almost as large as the number of graduates, but two particular areas in which our graduates have had recent success are publishing and the theatre. One of our former students is now in charge of editorial at a large publishing house, and another has just taken over running one of the country’s major theatres.
Our recent graduates have gone on to work in a wide range of desirable roles including:
- The Civil Service
- Journalism and broadcasting
- Museum and library work
- Commerce and finance
We also work with our Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.
Studying at Essex is about discovering yourself, so your course combines compulsory and optional modules to make sure you gain key knowledge in the discipline, while having as much freedom as possible to explore your own interests. Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.
For many of our courses you’ll have a wide range of optional modules to choose from – those listed in this example structure are just a selection of those available. The opportunity to take optional modules will depend on the number of core modules within any year of the course. In many instances, the flexibility to take optional modules increases as you progress through the course.
Our Programme Specification gives more detail about the structure available to our current first-year students, including details of all optional modules.
What techniques are required for critical writing? How is “the essay” a specific form of writing? Improve your essay-writing by preparing short assignments on a single literary text. Practise the skills needed (planning, use of terminology, constructing an argument, presenting evidence, secondary reading, footnotes and bibliography etc) for academic writing.
Which writers re-worked Homer’s Odyssey? Or borrowed ideas from Dante’s Inferno? Examine how key literary texts and genres have been used by successive generations of writers up until the present day. Shift from classical text to a more modern example, studying the long cultural traditions that exist.
How do you read a text closely? What is involved in close reading? With emphasis on you to active do the close reading, learn how this approach can contribute to your appreciation of meaning and significance in a diverse range of texts.
This module aims to support you in developing your employability skills in order to help you secure your chosen career in an increasingly competitive 21st century graduate labour market. You’ll reflect on and refine your own thinking about employability, and will apply your degree subject knowledge. You’ll also gain an understanding of the structure of the graduate labour market, in order to identify relevant opportunities.
Certain ideas shape the way we see ourselves and the world around us—ideas like democracy, free speech, individualism, free markets, and humans rights. These ideas took their definitive modern form during a politically and intellectually revolutionary stretch of history known as the Enlightenment (1650-1800). This interdisciplinary module examines this period and thus serves as an essential prerequisite for students who want to understand the intellectual currents that run through the world they live in. Graduating students often rank it among the most useful modules they’ve taken.
How do you get started as a writer? How do you practise your writing? And how can you make improvements? Using exercises and texts, focus on your basic skills and essay writing. Cover topics like characterisation, dialogue, point of view, plotting, suspense, and metaphor and imagery.
This module is an introduction to some of the most influential European writers from the Enlightenment period up to the present day. You study significant works of literature that sparked particular movements or represent crucial literary innovation. The works selected are novels, novellas, short stories and plays, and we examine these texts within their historical and political contexts. This module will help you to build understanding of the development of genres, forms, styles, content and ideas.
How useful is the term “early modern”? What about “medieval” or “Renaissance”? Study literature from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Glimpse cultural structures and behaviour that prefigures our own, as well as an exciting “otherness” of the many worlds represented in the variety of texts chosen.
What is modernity? How did it change our perception of the world? What impact did it have on literary culture? Study major pieces of poetry, drama and fiction from the 1790s to the 1970s that engage with challenges and inventions of modern life, negotiating transitions between old and new.
How can texts be read and interpreted using the thinking of Marx? What about Freud or de Saussure? Or Derrida and Said? Study literature, theatre, and film using these key thinkers. Analyse their approaches both historically and institutionally, and understand the importance of theoretical and methodological material to your studies.
What are the major US texts since 1850? And what problems are connected to them? Study a varied spectrum of US literature, looking at issues such as the relationship between American writing and history, American “difference” and differences within American society, nationalism and regionalism, and conflicts of race and gender.
How did literature respond to scientific and technological developments during the Victorian period? What about urbanisation and the growth of industrial cities? What impact did the British Empire expansion have? Explore a range of poetry and prose to understand how writing evolved during sixty-four years of unprecedented vitality and change.
What are the important theories about Wordsworth’s poetry? And Coleridge? How do you analyse the imagination of Shelley? Or Keats? Explore key aspects of Romantic writing, deepening your knowledge of this vibrant and diverse literature. Study works of poetry, fiction and essays, building understanding of relevant critical approaches and theories.
How was the history play invented in early modern England? And why? Examine Shakespeare’s English and Roman history plays, as well as works by Marlowe, Jonson and Ford. Understand how the Elizabethan history play responds to the radically different kinds of history being written and translated in early modern England.
What is the history play? Why is it attractive to writers from the Enlightenment right up until the present day? Investigate relationships between drama and history, building knowledge of a variety of historical drama from the eighteenth century onwards. Explore the history play by studying its inventiveness, modernity and politics.
To what degree are Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello tragedies? How useful is this term in understanding them? Undertake a close reading of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies. Critically discuss recent issues about each, in groups and in your own work. Gain an understanding of their enduring and/or present significance.
How do you see the US South? How have slavery debates shaped this view? What influence did major writers like Twain or Faulkner play? Study a rich body of literature that variously imagines the US South as of great contrast to other areas of the USA and the Americans generally.
On your year abroad, you have the opportunity to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised. The rest of your course remains identical to the three-year degree.
- Teaching will mainly take the form of lectures and classes of about 20 students
- Innovative ways of engaging with texts include editing 16th century sonnets and archival research
- A typical timetable involves a one-hour lecture and a one-hour class for each of your modules every week
- Your final mark for each module is determined half by coursework and half by examination
- A mark for class participation is included in your coursework mark
UK entry requirements
A-levels: BBB, including one essay-based subject
IB: 30 points, including a Higher Level essay-based subject grade 5. We are also happy to consider a combination of separate IB Diploma Programmes at both Higher and Standard Level. Exact offer levels will vary depending on the range of subjects being taken at higher and standard level, and the course applied for. Please contact the Undergraduate Admissions Office for more information.
Entry requirements for students studying BTEC qualifications are dependent on units studied. Advice can be provided on an individual basis. The standard required is generally at Distinction level.
International and EU entry requirements
We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries.
for further details about the qualifications we accept. Include information in your email about the
high school qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.
Applications for our full-time undergraduate courses should be made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Applications are online at: www.ucas.com. Full details on this process can be obtained from the UCAS website in the how to apply section.
Our UK students, and some of our EU and international students, who are still at school or college, can apply through their school. Your school will be able to check and then submit your completed application to UCAS. Our other international applicants (EU or worldwide) or independent applicants in the UK can also apply online through UCAS Apply.
The UCAS code for our University of Essex is ESSEX E70. The individual campus codes for our Loughton and Southend Campuses are ‘L’ and ‘S’ respectively.
Applicant Days and interviews
Resident in the UK? If your application is successful, we will invite you to attend one of our applicant days. These run from January to April and give you the chance to explore the campus, meet our students and really get a feel for life as an Essex student.
Some of our courses also hold interviews and if you’re invited to one, this will take place during your applicant day. Don’t panic, they’re nothing to worry about and it’s a great way for us to find out more about you and for you to find out more about the course. Some of our interviews are one-to-one with an academic, others are group activities, but we’ll send you all the information you need beforehand.
If you’re outside the UK and are planning a trip, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help you plan a visit to the University.
Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex. In 2017 we have three undergraduate Open Days (in June, September and October). These events enable you to discover what our Colchester Campus has to offer. You have the chance to:
- tour our campus and accommodation
- find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
- meet our students and staff
Check out our Visit Us pages to find out more information about booking onto one of our events. And if the dates aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing email@example.com and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.
If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.
Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. Take a look at our list of exhibition dates to see if we’ll be near you in the future.