ENG4420 – Ethics in Contemporary British Fiction

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

This course will explore how values are presented in a range of contemporary British novels. The word “ethics” in the course title is here closely linked to “values” (in the plural): ethics indicates the values aesthetically presented in narrative fiction. These values may be different both in kind and scope, thus often creating tensions or conflicts typically related to, and expressed through, the varying views, actions, and attitudes of the texts’ characters and narrators.

Ethics is in this course closely linked to, and considered as inseparable from, aesthetics. Ethics also includes the reader’s ethics, which necessarily influences the act of reading. At the same time, the narrative ethics of a novel or short story can challenge, and possibly even influence, the reader’s ethics: This interplay will be discussed and explored by the course participants. Ethics in literature tends to assume the form of questions – questions asked by the author via the different agents of a written narrative, and questions asked by the reader about the written narrative.

That such questions can reveal how limited our perspective is, thus improving our understanding of other human beings’ perspectives and values, is demonstrated by the novels read and discussed in the course. Illustrative of, and continuing, the strong ethical strand in British fiction from Jane Austen onwards, the novels explored in the course show that ethical questions are also asked by contemporary British authors.

Learning outcome

After completing this course, you:

  • Understand how literary values are presented in narrative fiction
  • Can identify and respond to ethical questions asked in, and by, a novel
  • Have improved your knowledge of key novels written by some of the most influential and widely discussed contemporary British novelists
  • Understand better how novels can contribute to the production of history and culture


Seminar, two hours per week for ten weeks, 20 hours in total.

Attendance is obligatory at least 8 out of 10 seminars. Read more about rules concerning valid excuses and how to apply for approved absences here.


The form of assessment is a term paper of 12–15 standard pages (a standard page consists of 2,300 characters). References and bibliography comes in addition.

Assessment guidelines

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

You must do all obligatory activities, including attendance, in this course again if you want to qualify to re-take the exam. Admission depends on capacity.

Withdrawal from an examination

A term paper or equivalent that is passed may not be resubmitted in revised form.

If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Autumn 2018


Autumn 2018

Teaching language