Contemporary British Fiction (Online)


This course is designed for students who enjoy reading and discussing novels, belong to a book club or reading group, read reviews of fiction,  have opinions and ideas about novels, have ever thought 'so many books, so little time', and wondered how to decide which authors to try. This couse will help if you have ever been daunted by terms such as 'modernism', 'magic realism' or 'postmodern'. It aims to take your enjoyment and appreciation of fiction to the next stage and develop your ideas into coherent, backed-up analytical arguments and to have technical terms demystified.

Listen to Dr Jennifer Dunn talking about the course:

We shall be focusing on fiction by Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Zadie Smith, but the skills participants gain during their study of those novels will enable them to explore other contemporary and earlier writing. The course introduces and explains concepts such as realism, modernism, and postmodernism in an accessible way. Students will learn to analyse the language, style and structure of the key texts, and, by comparing them to extracts from eighteenth-, nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, to understand their contexts. This course will ask you to consider the way we read and value contemporary writing, and will encourage you to discuss the approaches and assumptions in book reviews and literary prizes. Above all, this course aims to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of literature, and enable you to further explore contemporary writing.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Approaching contemporary fiction

  • What is contemporary fiction?
  • How to read contemporary fiction
  • Literary value

Unit 2: Defining contemporary style: realism and modernism

  • Mimesis
  • Literature that is not realistic
  • Literary modernism
  • The art of telling

Unit 3: Postmodernism: themes and techniques

  • Literary postmodernism
  • Metafiction
  • Exhaustion or replenishment?

Unit 4: Life at the millennium

  • Setting: place
  • Setting: time
  • The fantastic
  • Millennial anxieties

Unit 5: Contemporary fiction and genre

  • Categories
  • The Gothic novel
  • The sublime
  • Contemporary Gothic
  • Recycling genre

Unit 6: Science, technology and ethics

  • Past, present and future
  • Speculative fiction
  • Utopia and dystopia
  • Science and technology
  • Textual uncertainty

Unit 7: Self and society: gender, class and social categories

  • Class
  • Gender roles

Unit 8: New voices: hyperrealism?

  • Style in White Teeth
  • Hype
  • Realism and hyperrealism

Unit 9: Race, ethnicity, nationality and culture

  • Diversity
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Nationality

Unit 10: Conclusion: literature, politics, and a new canon?

  • Reflection
  • Politics
  • Literary prizes
  • A contemporary canon?

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:


Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Jenn Dunn

Dr Jennifer Dunn, lecturer in English at Oxford University from 2002-2009, has taught for OUDCE since 2007. She is the supervisory tutor for online writing and literature courses, and Assessor in English for the Undergraduate Certificate. She has published on twentieth-century and contemporary fiction, and her teaching and research interests also include women's literature, nature writing, and eco-criticism.

Course aims

  • Enhance your understanding and enjoyment of literary texts.
  • Understand basic concepts of the critical idiom.
  • Distinguish between opinions and appreciations, and analysis.
  • Produce close critical analyses of prose and poetry.
  • Have a working knowledge of the broad chronological, thematic, and stylistic categories of English Literature.
  • Produce written work utilising academic conventions of format and referencing.
  • Make effective use of online resources in English Literary Studies.
  • Begin to build a personal reading list.

Teaching methods

  •  Guided reading of texts
  •  Guided use of existing websites
  •  Use of tutor notes
  • Discussions of particular issues and responses to reading in the unit forums
  •  Close critical analyses of selected extracts from the texts studied

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will understand:

  • Relevant critical and theoretical concepts, such as genre and postmodernism.
  • Relevant critical debates about contemporary fiction.
  • Common themes and techniques in contemporary British fiction.
  • The difference between appreciation/opinion and critical analysis.
  • The assigned novels and extracts of earlier fiction.
  • How contemporary fiction compares to earlier literature.

And you will have developed the following skills:

  • To apply critical and theoretical concepts to enhance your understanding of contemporary texts.
  • To think about and discuss contemporary fiction in relation to cultural and critical contexts.
  • To analyse and compare reviews and critical readings.
  • To develop your own critical approach to contemporary fiction.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.