Faculty of Arts


Modernist Transformations


"On or about December 1910", according to Virginia Woolf, "human character changed". Like Ezra Pound with his famous dictum "Make it new!", Woolf spoke for a generation of artists and writers who were subverting traditional forms, re-imagining genre boundaries and foregrounding the conditions of art-making and writing. Henceforth, a poem might find itself in a sculpture court, a cabaret or a little magazine. A ballet might turn into a riot. A flow of language acts could look like prose on a page or a typographical vortex whirling off into space.


This course takes transformation as its theme and a selection of influential Modernist works from the first half of the twentieth century as its focus. We will explore poetry, experimental prose and manifestos that map out some of the possibilities for avant-garde art and literature, asking how art and culture responded to a period of dizzying change. Along the way we’ll investigate the role of cities in the development of modernist art, changes in gender roles, the influence of new sciences like psychology and the results of technological development for culture. Our reading list includes poetry by Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams, manifestoes by Futurist and feminist writers and prose fiction by Jean Toomer and Virginia Woolf. 


We like physical books and we like digital resources. We think Modernism is one of the most exciting developments for writing and art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We know there have never been so many ways of accessing the textual and contextual treasures of the period. We aim to put as many of them as possible into play in order to reveal the richness and connectivity of the writer’s world and its relevance for contemporary cultural production.


Learning objectives 


Students taking the course will 

            •           expand their knowledge of modernism as a multimedia, multicultural phenomenon; 

            •           improve their ability to analyse poetic, fictional and visual representations; 

            •           learn to do independent research; 

            •           be exposed to a variety of ways to read poetry and fiction within the context of English literature studies; 


            •           make creative/critical connections among different kinds of media, national contexts and time periods.



Coursework only

Availability 2021

Semester 1


Lecturer(s) Professor Michele Leggott
Professor Helen Sword


  • ENGLISH 216 Modernist Transformations Course Reader 2021            


Coursework only


ENGLISH 216: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage I in English


ENGLISH 206, 222

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