Staying Alive: Literature of the 1990s

Course details

From £322.00
10 CATS points

Term 1
02 Oct 2019 - 11 Dec 2019
Term 2
08 Jan 2020 - 18 Mar 2020
Day of week

Staying Alive: Literature of the 1990s


In this course we shall discuss Adam Thorpe’s masterpiece, Ulverton, the story of an English village through multiple voices, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, an intensely vivid exploration of choices made during the Second World War, Hilary Mantel’s A Change of Climate, a family drama that challenges assumptions about evil, Andrei Makine’s Le Testament Français, a lyrical account of a Soviet boy obsessed with France, Alice Munro’s collection of stories and a novella, The Love of A Good Woman, and Michael Frayn’s play of human motives in a fraught situation, Copenhagen. We shall also read poems taken from Neil Astley’s anthology, Staying Alive. All these works are deeply rooted in ‘staying-alive-ness’, and bound to provoke much discussion. 


Programme details

Course starts: 2 October 2019
Term 2 starts: 8 January 2020

This class is based on detailed discussion, so we cannot be sure exactly how long we will take on discussing any one book. The chosen works will be read in the following order: 

Michael Ondaatje The English Patient (Bloomsbury)

Alice Munro’s collection The Love of A Good Woman (Vintage)

Neil Astley Staying Alive (Bloodaxe)

Andrei Makine Le Testament Français(Sceptre)

Hilary Mantel A Change of Climate (Fourth Estate)

Michael Frayn Copenhagen(Methuen drama)

Adam Thorpe Ulverton (Vintage)

All are available in paperback. There will be copies in the class book box, but if you can buy, borrow or beg a copy for yourself, that will be very helpful.



Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List


Course Fee: £322.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Mrs Karen Hewitt, MBE

Karen Hewitt MBE MA, teaches regularly for the Department for Continuing Education. She also teaches literature in Russian universities, and has written many commentaries on contemporary English literature.

Course aims

To read, enjoy and understand some remarkable works of literature from the 1990s. 

Course Objectives:

(1) To learn how to read challenging fiction and drama which makes serious demands on the reader;

(2) To look at a variety of poems which can change tone and style swiftly and ingeniously;

(3) To ask questions about the human condition within the terms offered to us by each writer.

Teaching methods

The class will mostly learn by focused and serious discussion of the books we are reading. We will consider, for example, the literary skills involved in developing narrative, , in dramatising different points of view, in creating a precise metaphor in poetry. We will also look at the human emotions and problems explored in this literature, moving from close reading to more general analysis and back. The tutor will provide background information to help with the discussions which we hope will be fruitful and coherent.

Learning outcomes

Students will have learnt to enjoy and understand some important literary works of the 1990s

They will have learnt how to analyse both the issues explored in the works and the literary means by which this is done.

They will have acquired much useful information about red ribbons, quantum physics, staying alive in Siberian blizzards, speaking cows and the devil’s toenails.

Assessment methods

Students are expected to read all the chosen works of literature, and to write a piece of work each term. For their written assignment they will be able to choose Option A ( 3 short pieces of c. 500 words) or Option B - a longer essay of at least 1500 words. There will be a variety of questions to suit most individual interests, whichever option they choose. Detailed and friendly feedback will be provided by the tutor.



Held in conjunction with the WEA (Southern branch).

To enrol please contact:

C. Murphy,

Ross House, 

Chapel Lane,

Shipton under Wychwood,

Oxon, OX7 6DJ

Phone: 01993 831926 

Level and demands

The main requirement is that you read the chosen novels, stories, play and poems before we come to discuss each one. The course is arranged to give you time to read the most complicated works, and class discussion will help you. There is no 'level' that you have to reach provided you are prepared to do the reading which does require time and attention - and is all the more rewarding for that.