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ENGLISH 4CB3 ContemporaryBritishFiction

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Sarah Brophy

Email: brophys@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 331

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 22243


Office Hours: Tuesdays 2:00-4:00

Course Objectives:

This course will explore the cultural contexts for the writing, marketing, and reading of the British novel over the past decade. Criticism has had some difficulty coming to terms with new criteria for literary success such as bestseller lists, prizes, publicity, and media adaptability. Our project will be to debate possible critical vocabularies for the analysis of a number of contemporary British novels which can at once be categorized as “serious” and “popular.” We will consider six novels in light of selected critical readings from literary and cultural theory. While paying due attention to questions of genre and form, we will concentrate on investigating the production of literary value and meaning in contemporary culture. Topics for discussion include: the increasing importance of cross-promotion, literary celebrity, media adaptations, and fan reception; novels’ mediation of identity in a postmodern, consumer, and multicultural society; and conflicting re-inventions of history, language, culture, and politics in a rapidly changing late twentieth and early twenty-first-century Britain.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts

Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic.

John Lanchester, Capital.

Gautam Malkani, Londonstani.

Ian McEwan, Saturday.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Zadie Smith, NW.

Custom Courseware

Selected online articles (see “links” page under Resources tab on Avenue)

Optional Reference Text

Edgar, Andrew, and Peter Sedgwick. Cultural Theory: The Key Concepts, Second Edition (available on reserve at Mills Library)

Accessibility Statement:

I assume that all of us learn in different ways, and that the organization of any course will accommodate each student differently. For example, you may prefer to process information by speaking and listening, so that some of the written handouts or the images on PowerPoint slides may be difficult to absorb. Please talk to me as soon as you can about your individual learning needs, including any Student Accessibility Services arrangements, and how we can work together in this course to best accommodate you. Even if you do not have a documented disability, I am always glad to consult about your learning processes and to help you identify resources on campus; useful supports include the English and Cultural Studies Departmental Writing Tutors as well as McMaster’s Student Success Centre, which provides academic skills support for all students.




Method of Assessment:


Seminar presentation (15 minutes; 2-3 discussion questions)                        25%    

Essay proposal (500 words) and annotated bibliography (8 sources)             20% (due to Avenue Mar. 3)

Research essay (2500 words)                                                                          40% (due to Avenue Apr. 7)

Participation                                                                                                      15%


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Other Course Information:

Course Expectations and Notes

1. Participation and preparation: I expect that you’ll arrive to our meetings fully prepared, having completed and contemplated the bulk of the weekly readings; that you’ll contribute thoughtfully to class discussions and respond constructively to one another’s presentations; that you’ll make an effort to engage with cultural and theoretical contexts as well as fictional texts; and that you’ll make regular use of Avenue to Learn.


2.  In the event of class cancellations, students will be notified on Avenue to Learn and on

the Department of English and Cultural Studies website.  It is your responsibility to check these websites regularly for any such announcements:




3. Office hours and email: I am always glad to consult with you about the course and your work! If you wish to discuss your essay or seminar in detail, please drop by during my office hours, or email me to make an appointment for another time.  Briefer questions may be handled by email.  Please put the course code (4CB3) in the subject line; I will do my best to get back to you within 48 hours.


4.  Each class member will present one 15-minute seminar in the course of the term.  Please submit to me (in the form of an email message or a note to CNH 321) by Fri. January 13 a list of five seminar choices (in five different weeks) in order of preference. I will then post the schedule of seminars on Avenue and on my office door. Seminar presentations should aim to involve class members in discussion and debate. Key terms should be clearly defined, and you should support your argument with textual evidence and with well-developed links to one or more of the critical essays we’re studying. Conclude your presentation with 2-3 interesting, thoughtfully-developed discussion questions. On or before the day of your presentation, you are required to post your speaking notes and discussion questions on Avenue. Creativity and the use of audio-visual materials are strongly encouraged! The seminar room is equipped with an LCD projector and DVD player, and I can help you get things up and running.


5.  A 500-word proposal for the Research Essay is due on Fri. March 3 as a Word document via the Dropbox on Avenue. You are asked to draw on the course materials, theories, and questions to design your own research topic. Note that your essay must be on a subject other than that of your seminar presentation. The proposal should be accompanied by an annotated bibliography (approx. 2 pages) including a minimum of eight sources. While you may include relevant interviews and book reviews in your bibliography, at least four of your eight sources must be scholarly ones (i.e. journal articles, academic books or book chapters).  For the annotations, provide a brief description (2-3 sentences) of the argument of each source and its relevance to your own proposed essay. Models of past student assignments are available on Avenue for you to consult.


6. The term research essay (2500 words), which derives from the proposal and bibliography assignment, is due on Fri. April 7. Please submit your essay as a Word document via Avenue. I will accept no essay after April 14.  Students are expected to retain a copy of the assignment. Please be aware that I will not accept essays via email.


7.  Documentation:  Follow MLA guidelines for the presentation and documentation of research, including both print and web sources. ALL sources cited or paraphrased in seminars and essays must be acknowledged.


8. Academic Integrity: Academic dishonesty consists of misrepresentation by deception or by other fraudulent means and can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. Plagiarism and submission of work that is not one’s own or for which previous credit has been obtained are examples of academic dishonesty.  For information on the various kinds of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, specifically Appendix 3:



9. Course evaluations: Students will be asked to complete an evaluation at the end of the course.