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English Dissertation Topics

English Dissertation Topics

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Example english dissertation topic 1:

Characterisations of womanhood: Divergence within literature between northern and southern women. A critical analysis of the characters of ‘the old lady' in Chaplin's Day of the Sardine,  Mrs Casper in Hines' A Kestrel for a Knave, Julia in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and Primrose Violet Anemone Iris Magnolia Narcissa Larkin (Ma Larkin) in Bates' The Darling Buds of May.

Using two northern characters and authors and two southern characters and books, this dissertation compares and contrasts the role of women within the books and the way in which they are described. In so doing it touches upon aspects of poverty and social exclusion and the role of single mothers and accordingly tests the hypothesis that northern women are traditionally portrayed in a grittier manner whereas those in the south are painted in more traditionally feminine tones within more stable relationships and surroundings.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bates, H.E. (1958 [2000]) The Darling Buds of May (New Ed edn). London: Penguin.
  • Chaplin, S. (2004) The Day of the Sardine. Hexham: Flambard Press.
  • Hines, B. (1968 [2000]) A Kestrel for a Knave (New Ed edn). London: Penguin.
  • Waugh, E. (1945 [2000]) Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (New Ed edn). London: Penguin.

Example english dissertation topic 2:

Sid Chaplin: The forgotten regional novelist of the North?

Catherine Cookson is the epitome of a northern writer - indeed, ‘This is Catherine Cookson country' signs litter the north-east corner of County Durham and Teesside. However, writing as a contemporary, Sid Chaplin's depictions of northern class life are, according to Melvyn Bragg and others, as relevant to issues to day as they were when they were written. Chaplin's work is not as widely marketed and his work has certainly never been cast into film. This dissertation looks at his work Day of the Sardine and questions the extent to which his pithy comments on the reality of north east life offer an insight into community and identity at least as powerful as that attributed to his more famous neighbouring regional novelist.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Chaplin, S. (1961 [2004]) The Day of the Sardine. Hexham: Flambard Press.
  • Chaplin, S. (1965 [2004]) The Watchers and the Watched (3rd edn). Hexham: Flambard Press.

Example english dissertation topic 3:

Walter Scott and the carving of brutishness: Nationalism and regionalism within his novels.

Reviewing the entirety of the Scott's work this dissertation seeks to address underlying themes that run through each of the novels. To what extent nationalism and regionalism can be seen as complementary or competing ideological traits is a central concern of this study. Moreover, in the period of high brutishness to what extent can his novels be seen to have tapped into the public consciousness of the time? This is a multifaceted dissertation that would allow the writer to explore a number of themes and books and tailor the work to the particular aspects of Scott's work that they particularly enjoy or associate with.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Leerssen, J. (2011) ‘Viral nationalism: Romantic intellectuals on the move in nineteenth-century Europe', Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 17, pp. 257-271.
  • Scott, Sir Walter (1814 [2008]) Waverley. Oxford: Oxford World Classics.
  • Scott, Sir Walter (1820 [2001]) The Monastery. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Scott, Sir Walter (1832 [2006]) Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous. Michigan: University of Michigan.
  • Shaw, H.E. (1983) The Forms of Historical Fiction: Sir Walter Scott and His Successors. New York: Cornell University Press.

Example english dissertation topic 4:

Analysing trends of sales: romantic historic fiction and recessionary pressures.

Analysis of sales trends within English fiction literature shows that there is, in times of recession, an upswing in the number of books bought that relate to historic fiction. This dissertation using interviews with publishers, booksellers and book buyers seeks to establish why. Having conducted initial primary data research through questionnaires and interviews SPSS analysis is used to find underlying trends and an explanation proffered as to why the recession brings out the ‘historic romanticist' within the literary buying public.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Greco, A.N., Rodriguez, C.E, and Wharton, R.M. (2006) The Culture And Commerce of Publishing in the 21st Century. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Keen, S. (2008) ‘The historical turn in British fiction', in, English, J.E. (ed.) A Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Example english dissertation topic 5:

A topography of Caroline Graham's Midsomer series

Now transferred to the television, the Midsomer novels of Caroline Graham have made DCI Barnaby a household name. However, the topography of the county in which the novels are set is not so clear. In contrast, topographical studies of Hardy's Wessex have long been written. Using the techniques applied to the works of Hardy, this dissertation charts a similar map of Midsomer and in so doing brings a ‘sense of place' to the stories that are enjoyed by millions.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Graham, C. (1987) The Killings at Badger's Drift. London: Headline. 
  • Graham, C. (1989) Death of a Hollow Man. London: Headline.
  • Graham, C. (1992) Death in Disguise. London: Headline.
  • Graham, C. (1994) Written in Blood. London: Headline.
  • Graham, C. (1996) Faithful unto Death. London: Headline.
  • Graham, C. (1999) A Place of Safety. London: Headline.
  • Graham, C. (2004) A Ghost in the Machine. London: Headline.
  • Hones, S. (2008) ‘Text as it happens: Literary geography', Geography Compass, Vol. 2, pp. 1301-1317.
  • Jones, M. and MacLeod, G. (2004) ‘Regional spaces, spaces of regionalism: Territory, insurgent politics and the English question', Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 29, pp. 433-452.

Example english dissertation topic 6:

Imagery of warfare: Changing approaches to the genre

The drama Journey's End is a staple text of many a KS3 English teacher, finding resonance also within the KS3 and KS4 History curriculum. Its depictions of war and in particular life within the trenches are well known - presenting a poignant but at times light hearted account of life within the battle field. This dissertation contrasts this classic of literature with more recent accounts of life at war - comparing themes that are repeated and noting the rise in political commentary within the latter genre. In so doing, this dissertation seeks to address the extent to which our toleration of the gritty realities of war is a consequence of our living in a more media orientated world than that of the early 20th century. This is an English literature dissertation that also addresses aspects of sociology and history.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Sherriff, R.C. (1928 [2000]) Journey's End (New Ed edn). London: Penguin.
  • Wrigley, C. (ed.) (2007) A Companion to Early Twentieth-Century Britain. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Example english dissertation topic 7:

An analysis of the roles of nature and blindness in Shakespeare's King Lear and Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale

Linking these two classic works of respectively, Tudor and late middle age English literature are the themes of nature and blindness. Within Lear, themes abound including those of a King who is curiously naive in the ways of human nature, a King who finds himself in a world of negated values, and a King faced with moral blindness and unnaturalness. Such concerns are mirrored by issues of blind love, a more general inability to see reality and the cunning of womanhood in in Chaucer's The Merchant's tale.  Using a range of secondary sources this dissertation compares and contrasts the use of blindness and nature as a metaphor in both works.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Chaucer, G. ([2005]). The Canterbury Tales (New Ed edn). London: Penguin.
  • Edwards, A.S.G. (1990) ‘The Merchant's Tale and moral Chaucer', Modern Language Quarterly, Vol. 51(3), pp. 409-426
  • Shakespeare, W. ([1994]) King Lear (New Ed edn). Ware: Wordsworth Edition Classics.
  • Stewart, D.J. (1977) ‘Pornography, obscenity, and capitalism', The Antioch Review, Vol. 35(4), pp. 389-398.

Example english dissertation topic 8:

8) John Donne: A comparison of his sermons and metaphysical love poems

As well as being a renowned poet of his age, John Donne was also Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. This dissertation reviews two distinct aspects of his life and work. First, it analyses the metaphors used within his metaphysical poems. Secondly, it contrasts the contents and use of language in them to the words of his sermons as recorded. Bringing together two distinct genres of language this dissertation uses a range of primary as well as secondary sources to make a valuable further contribution to our understanding of this great man.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Donne, J.; Fowkes, C. (ed.) (1982) The Love Poems of John Donne. London: St Martin's Press.
  • Donne, J.; Simpson, E.M. (ed.) (2003) John Donne's Sermons on the Psalms and Gospels: With a Selection of Prayers and Meditations. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Friedman, D.M. (1973) ‘Memory and the art of salvation in Donne's Good Friday poem', English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 3, pp. 418-442.
  • Kerrigan, W. (1974) ‘The fearful accommodations of John Donne'. English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 4, pp. 337-363.
  • Klause, J.L. (1987) ‘Donne and the Wonderful', English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 17, pp. 41-66.

Example english dissertation topic 9:

A changing language - The value of text speech.

This dissertation is inspired by a series of comments made in the quality press over the last few years at the time of GCSe and A-level results day. In those articles, commentators bemoaned the introduction of ‘text speak' to students work and questioned whether any value should be given to this language in the formal marking of examination papers. This dissertation seeks to place such a debate into a wider historic context noting how street slang has, since the early 18rh century been steadily integrated into more main stream language and asking whether ‘text speak' is, in reality, but the modern day equivalent of these earlier historic trends of language development.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Green, J. (2007) ‘Language: Intrtxtlty', Critical Quarterly, Vol. 49, pp. 124-128.
  • Plester, B., Wood, C. and Bell, V. (2008) ‘Txt msg n school literacy: Does texting and knowledge of text abbreviations adversely affect children's literacy attainment?' Literacy, Vol. 42, pp. 137-144.
  • Thurlow, C. (2006) ‘From statistical panic to moral panic: The metadiscursive construction and popular exaggeration of new media language in the print media', Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Vol. 11, pp. 667-701.

Example english dissertation topic 10:

A Marxist and class critique of Harry Potter, Animal Farm and Wind in the Willows

The subject of intense contemporary academic debate, Marxist interpretations of Harry Potter have shed new light on the sub-plots within this series of books as shown for instance at the recent conference upon the matter at the University of St Andrews (June 2012). In contrast to this ‘new discovery'; the communist overtones of Animal Farm are well established. This dissertation seeks to apply the same rationale and critique processes to Wind in the Willows noting for instance the portrayal of the Weasels as the proletariat mass, the fickle bourgeoisie taste of the ‘idle-rich' Toad and the wise ‘old guard' mentality of Badger.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Grahame, K. (1908 [1993]) The Wind in the Willows (New Ed edn). Ware: Wordsworth.
  • Orwell, G. (1945 [2008]) Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. London: Penguin.
  • Rowling, J.K. (2001) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Wojcik-Andrews, I. (1993) ‘Introduction: Notes toward a theory of class in children's literature', The Lion and the Unicorn, Vol. 17(2), pp. 113-123.

Example english dissertation topic 11:

The role of patriarchy and gender stereotyping in The Chronicles of Narnia

On one level the Chronicles of Narnia merely chart as tale of good versus evil through the eyes of children. However, when studied at a deeper level issues of patriarchy arise with regards to the roles of the princes and Asland. In addition, the roles and characterisation of the two princesses result in the books being gender stereotyped throughout with the girls being more helpless and caring in attitude whilst the boys are left to fight. This dissertation considers these issues with regards to feminist and patriarchal critiques of literature and in so doing offers a fresh assessment of the role of gender bias within the books.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Cecire, M. S. (2009), Medievalism, popular culture and national identity in children's fantasy literature. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, vol. 9, pp. 395-409
  • Graham, J.E, (2004) ‘Women, sex, and power: Circe and Lilith in Narnia', Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 29 (1), pp. 32-44

Example english dissertation topic 12:

Contrasting sides of urban-life? A comparative study of the urban imagery used in Gaskell's Mary Barton (Manchester) and Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Nottingham)

As two great northern cities Manchester and Nottingham are depicted very differently within the works of Gaskell and Sillitoe. This dissertation firstly analyses the ways in which both cities are depicted and then compares and contrasts them thematically. Thereafter it seeks to contextualise the novels with public perceptions of the north during the period and asks the extent to which the reality of public perceptions of industrial cities is borne out or questioned by the depictions of Nottingham and Manchester within the two works.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Hones, S. (2008), ‘Text as it happens: Literary geography'. Geography Compass, Vol. 2, pp. 1301-1317.
  • Pocock, D.C.D. (1979), ‘The novelist's image of the north',
  • Pollard, A. (1961), ‘Sooty Manchester and the social reform novel 1845 - 1855 an examination of Sybil, Mary Barton, North and South, and Hard Times', British Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol. 18, pp. 85 - 101.
  • Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 4, (1), pp. 62-76.

Example english dissertation topic 13:

Anti-Semitic characterisations within Shakespeare and Dickens: An evaluation of Shylock and Fagin

It is easy, from the perspective of more enlightened times, to view the attitudes of the past as barbaric. Indeed, Shapiro notes that, with regard to the portrayal of Shylock, ‘to avert our gaze from what the play reveals about the relationship between cultural myths and peoples' identities will not make irrational and exclusionary attitudes disappear' (1996: 228). However, this dissertation proposes that such attitudes are examined more objectively and with reference to discriminatory attitudes towards other marginalised sectors of the population, such as the disabled. Further, it explores whether it is up to the writer to mask the feeling of the times, rather than depict their contemporary reality. That which is respected today may not be respected tomorrow or yesterday; this study chooses to consider the changing fortunes of issues of societal disgust or acceptance such as child marriage and homosexuality in an historical context.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Baker, W. (2002), ‘Shakespeare and minorities: An annotated bibliography, 1970-2000', Reference Reviews, Vol. 16 (6), pp.25-35.
  • Ferber, M. (1990) ‘The ideology of The Merchant of Venice', English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 20, pp. 431-464.
  • Krapf, E.E. (1955) ‘Shylock and Antonio: A psychoanalytic study on Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism', Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 42, pp.113-130.
  • Lane, L. (1958) ‘Dickens' archetypal Jew', Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, Vol. 73, (1), pp. 94-100.
  • Shapiro, J. (1996) Shakespeare and the Jews. New York: Columbia University Press.

Example english dissertation topic 14:

Comic relief or the nightmare of a twisted psyche: The role of the clown in the Gothic novel

Given that an appreciation for clowns has waned in modern times, this dissertation considers how much the Gothic novel is responsible for the depiction of clowns as terrifying characters hiding behind their masks. From Walpole to Dowling, this study examines previous clowns and clown imagery in Gothic fiction and relates the surrealism of the clown to feelings of low self-esteem. Reviewing a wide breadth of Gothic literature, the dissertation draws upon existent theory upon clowns as well as attempting to break new ground with a presentation of psychological theory of coulrophobia, as linked to the Gothic novel.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bala, M. (2010) ‘The clown: An archetypal self-journey', Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Vol. 4(1), pp. 50-71.
  • Fahreus, A. and Camoglu, D.Y. (eds) (2011) Villains and Villainy: Embodiments of Evil in Literature, Popular Culture and Media. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi.
  • McConnell-Stott, A. (2009) The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Example english dissertation topic 15:

Facets of evil in highly controlled societies with reputations for low crime rates: An exploration of Japanese and Scandinavian crime fiction

The societies of Japan and countries such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark are renowned for being highly controlled. Yet, the recent of wave of (internationally successful) crime fiction from these countries reflects differing views domestically about the reality of their landscape. In both regional representations of the genre, the authors present the lives of ordinary citizens spiralling out of control in an evil that is the anathema of their highly regulated society. This dissertation considers authors such as Kirino, Miyabe, Higashino, Murakami, Lackberg, Nesser, Larsson, Nesbo, Kallentoft and Mankell.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Alm, C.O. and Stenport, A.W. (2009) ‘Corporations, crime, and gender construction in Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Exploring twenty-first century neoliberalism in Swedish culture', Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 81(2), pp. 157-178.
  • Kawana, S. (2008) Murder most modern: Detective fiction and Japanese culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Publishing.
  • Saarinen, R. (2003) ‘The surplus of evil in welfare society: Contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction', A Journal of Theology Dialogue, Vol. 42(2), pp. 131-135.

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