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.

In the past Visiting Students have chosen to focus on a particular genre, ‘problem’ or set of questions (philosophical fiction, unreliable narrators, ‘realism’, the European city, etc), and have pursued this across a range of different texts and languages. Others have opted for diversity of theme as well as text, and simply chosen the books they most wanted 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, Professor Wes Williams (, 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 books as corresponding to a single week’s work, and consider their minor/major options accordingly.

  • 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)
  • Hašek, The Good Soldier Švejk
  • Kundera, The Joke/The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Hrabal, I Served the King of England
  • 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
  • Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774; 1787)
  • Kleist, The Marquise of O— (1808)
  • Hoffmann, The Sandman (1816)
  • Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)
  • Kafka, Metamorphosis (1915)
  • Schnitzler, Dream Story (1926)
  • Grass, The Tin Drum (1959)
  • Wolf, The Quest for Christa T. (1968)
  • Sebald, Austerlitz (2001)
  • Grass, Crabwalk (2002)

German Literature and War

  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Simplicissimus, trans. by Mike Mitchell (Dedalus, 1999 [1668]) – a lengthy, entertaining, picaresque account of the character Simplicius and his involvement in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).
  • Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel (Penguin, 2004) – a soldier’s account of World War One. It can also be studied alongside Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, trans. by Brian Murdoch (Vintage, 1996 [1929]).
  • Günter Grass, Crabwalk, trans. by Krishna Winston (2003 [2002]) – a novella which was praised as breaking a taboo in depicting German wartime suffering.
  • Uwe Timm, In my Brother’s Shadow, trans. by Anthea Bell (Bloomsbury, 2005 [2003]) – an autobiographical text in which Timm attempts to come to terms with his brother’s war experiences in the SS.
  • Rabelais
  • Racine
  • Hoffmann, The Sandman
  • Nineteenth-century French Fantastical Tales
  • Maupassant, The Horla
  • Breton, Nadja
  • Bulgakov, Master and Margarita
  • García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Visiting Students

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

Find out more