SOAS University of London

Centre for English Studies, School of Arts

A special author

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2


  • This module is capped at 12 places.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, a student should be able to demonstrate . . . 

  • In-depth critical knowledge of the author selected, and of the history of the reception of their work
  • Reading of most of their work across genres;
  • challenge one’s own preconceptions about their work and its historical and conceptual contexts;
  • the ability to devise, structure, pursue and realise an independent research project, following detailed advice from your module tutor


This course will be taught over 10 weeks with a 2 hour seminar/tutorial classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

A special author: J. M. Coetzee

This research-led advanced interactive seminar is for undergraduates in Years 3 or 4, and warmly welcomes SOAS English, intercollegiate and exchange students who have an interest in the Nobel prizewinner’s work.

The focus will be on J. M. Coetzee & the Archives, and we will consider the idea of ‘archival intertextuality’, a term that endeavours to negotiate the distance of Coetzee’s actual archives (now residing at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas), and the easily accessible published works, including his most recent novel, The Schooldays of Jesus (2016). Coetzee’s finished works, in their own right, have attracted a global readership; as an author, he is among the most distinguished and innovative novelists writing today. What then does it mean to go back to ‘origins’, to glance at and consider after the fact the roads not taken, the beginnings, the diversions of fiction in the making?

With the recent biography by John Kannemeyer and the critical biography by David Attwell (both of which are key resources, and the latter is essential reading for the module), as well as in other available chapters and articles, we have selections and extracts from Coetzee’s archives second-hand, as well as highlights from the collection at the HRC.

The increasingly auto/biographical project – in particular his trilogy, Scenes from Provincial Life, the numerous ‘special author’ seminars on Coetzee around the world and conferences on his work, are also the focus of our seminar. His prolific career requires that we limit our selection of his numerous works for what is just a 10-week term. The required reading has therefore been chosen to act as a companion to the Term 2 course, Southern Spaces.

Teaching will include illustrations from Coetzee’s notebooks and drafts of works, and /or engage with other archival materials that in some way form, inform, or create a dialogue with Coetzee’s own writing.

Required reading:

For our introductory session in Week 1, there will be no seminar meeting on Weds - our regular meetings begin in Week 2.   Instead  there will be something much more substantial and exciting - a two-day international conference, Coetzee & the Archive, Thursday and Friday 5 & 6 October, just next door at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, Senate House. 

***Students on this course should register for the conference. A form will be sent to you via email.

***More urgenty, please note that there is limited seating for J M Coetzee's public reading and that this has been moved to FRIDAY 6 OCT at 17h30 - you should arrive and be seated no later than 17h15.

Please register for the reading on the IES conference website; this does require a £10 fee, and that is the box you should tick.  

Your preparation is to attend as many of the sessions of the conference as possible, taking notes, which will be invaluable for your major essays for this course.

Method of assessment

One notebook to be submitted on day 1, week 7, term 2 (worth 30%); One essay of 4,000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 11, term 2 (worth 50%); Regular attendance and seminar participation (worth 20%)

Suggested reading

The reading list will change depending on the author selected, and will be distributed at the beginning of the module. The selected author will be publicized on the course webpage in April of the preceding year.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules