Comparative Literature

visiting students

Courses in this subject area enable students to study key works of literature (either in translation or in the original, depending on their language skills) with Fellows and Tutors in each of the Modern Languages offered at St Edmund Hall. Studying comparative literature as a primary (major) course affords students the opportunity to study texts from each of the language sections on offer: French, Russian, Czech, Spanish, and German. It is also possible to study the literature of any one language (or indeed a particular author) more widely.

Taking this course as a major means having 8 tutorials – i.e. a one-hour session each week, normally with students having prepared an essay, in English, in advance of the session. There is a good deal of freedom to structure the course according to the interests of the individual student within reasonable and challenging parameters, and decided in consultation with your tutor at St Edmund Hall. Visiting students may be taught as part of the undergraduate cohort at Oxford, in small groups with other visiting students, or individually.

Visiting Students may choose to focus on a particular genre, ‘problem’ or set of questions (philosophical fiction, unreliable narrators, ‘realism’, the European city, ‘what is justice?’ etc), and pursue these across a range of different texts and languages. Alternatively, they may opt for diversity of theme as well as text, and simply chosen the books they most want to explore. Students could also decide to focus on the work of one or two authors, and/or perhaps engage in some theoretical thinking about the grounds for comparison between different ‘national’ or linguistically inflected literatures: (almost) anything is possible! Students could, for example, choose a selection of German, French, and Russian texts to make up a major of 8 tutorials, or choose from one of the comparative courses outlined below. Students should contact the course convenor, Dr Alex Lloyd (, to discuss their preferences before applying to the programme.

Here we have listed a range of possible books/authors – these should be thought of as a guide, and not a definitive or exhaustive list. Students should think of the study of each of these primary texts as corresponding to a single week’s work, and consider their minor/major options accordingly. Tutors will issue guidance about secondary reading.

  • Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
  • Montaigne, Essays
  • Mme de Lafayette, La Princesse de Clèves
  • Voltaire, Letters on the English/Candide
  • Diderot, Jacques le Fataliste
  • Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
  • Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  • Proust, Swann’s Way
  • Beckett, Waiting for Godot
  • Pushkin, Selected Prose Works
  • Gogol, Dead Souls
  • Turgenev, Fathers and Sons
  • Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment/Brothers Karamazov
  • Tolstoy, War and Peace/Anna Karenina; shorter fiction
  • Chekhov, Selected short stories
  • Bulgakov, Master and Margarita
  • Nabokov, Pnin; selected stories of the 1930s
  • Great lyric poems (for students who have studied Russian for 2 years or more)
Special Authors in Translation

Each author can be studied in a course of 4 tutorials in Hilary and/or Trinity Term. Students could choose to study two authors to make up a primary course (8 tutorials) or select one German-language author to study alongside texts by an author writing in French, Russian, Czech, or Spanish.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Johann Wolfgang Goethe occupies a central position in German literature, comparable to Shakespeare in English literature. Students will read and analyse two prose works (The Sorrows of Young Werther and Elective Affinities), and two plays (Götz von Berlichingen with the Iron Hand and Faust Part I).

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Franz Kafka is one of the most famous modernist writers, and his texts still resonate with readers today. Students will read and analyse two novels (The Trial, The Castle), as well as short prose works including A Country Doctor, The Metamorphosis, and The Judgement.

W.G. Sebald (1944-2001)

W.G. Sebald was a writer and academic who wrote in German but lived for much of his life in the UK. The English translations of his works are excellent. Students will work on a selection of his prose works, including The Emigrants, Austerlitz, The Rings of Saturn, and Vertigo.

Christa Wolf (1929-2011)

Christa Wolf was one of the foremost writers of the former East Germany (1949-1989). She was at the centre of a national controversy after the fall of the Berlin Wall and her works raise important questions about memory and the role of the writer in relation to politics and the state. Students will explore a selection of her prose works, including They Divided the Sky, Patterns of Childhood, The Quest for Christa T., Cassandra and What Remains.

Modern German Literature in Translation (1750-1840) (FHS COURSE VIII)

This option can be taken as a primary course (8 sessions) in Michaelmas Term.

In this course, students will explore German-language literary works from 1750-1840. The course will be taught in a combination of seminars and tutorials. We will read and discuss a number of dramatic and prose-fiction works, including Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Emilia Galotti (1772), Lessing, Nathan the Wise (1779), Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen with the Iron Hand (1773), Schiller, The Robbers (1781). E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Sandman (1816), Ludwig Tieck, Blond Eckbert (1797), The Hessian Courier (1834), Lenz (1835; 1839), Woyzeck (written 1836-37). Students will write four essays over the course of the term and give one or more presentations on the texts.

Modern German Literature in Translation (1900-2020) (FHS COURSE VIII)

This option can be taken as a primary course (8 tutorials) or secondary course (4 tutorials) in any term. In this course, students will explore German-language literary works and films made after 1900. Possible topics will include The City in Literature and Film, Literature and the Unconscious, New Objectivity, Writing after World War I, Literature and Film in the Rubble, Writing in East Germany, Literary Responses to World War II, Literature, Memory and Photography, Turkish-German Literature and Film, Transnational Memory.

  • Karásek, A Gothic Soul (1900)
  • Dyk, The Pied Piper (1915)
  • Čapek, Hordubal (1933)
  • Fuks, The Cremator (1967)
  • Kundera, The Joke (1967)
  • Durych, God’s Rainbow (1969)
  • Hrabal, I Served the King of England (1989)
  • Hodrová, A Kingdom of Souls (1991)
  • Hůlová, Three Plastic Rooms (2006)
  • Zmeškal, Love Letter in Cuneiform (2008)
  • El Poema de mio Cid/ The Poem of the Cid
  • Frenando de Rojas, Celestina
  • Cervantes, Don Quixote
  • García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Lorca, The Gypsy Ballads/The Poet in New York
  • Borges, Labyrinths

This course is unavailable for the 2023-24 academic year.

This course invites students to consider the role of monsters, the fantastic and the supernatural in literature drawn from different languages, genres, and time periods. The texts studied include E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Sandman (1816); Ludwig Tieck, Blond Eckbert (1797), Cyrano de Bergerac, A Voyage to the Moon (also known as The Comical History of the States and Empires of the World of the Moon) (1657); García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967); and Racine, Phèdre (1677). Attention is given to the works’ historical, literary, and critical contexts and issues relating to genre and style.

This option can be taken as a major (8 tutorials) or minor (4 tutorials). Students will work on a selection of texts translated from German and French. Topics to be discussed include the genre of ‘autofiction’, memory, and the role of place/setting. Writers to be discussed include Annie Ernaux, Nina Bouraoui, Maryse Condé, Olivia Wenzl, Judith Schalansky, Jenny Erpenbeck, Katja Oskamp.

This course can be taken as a minor (4 tutorials) and explores the way comics as a medium navigate difficult histories and traumatic pasts. We will discuss four texts: Art Spiegelman, Maus (1980-1991), Nora Krug, Heimat (2018), Ulli Lust, Voices in the Dark (2017), Barbara Yelin, Irmina (2014).

Oxford has a research network dedicated to Comics Studies.

Visiting Students

More information about becoming a Visiting Student at St Edmund Hall – including finance, accommodation and how to apply

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