SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the forms and themes of modern Korean literature with respect to socio-historical context and cultural developments;
  • demonstrate skills in textual and literary analysis and research;
  • identify and compare different scholarly approaches to the study of modern Korean literature;
  • assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course.


This course will be taught over 11 weeks;  1 lecture and 1 seminar over the 11 week period.

Scope and syllabus

This course, together with ‘Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea’, is designed to complement other lecture-based courses (‘History and Culture of Korea to the Late 19th Century’, ‘Culture and Society in 20th Century Korea’, ‘History and Structure of the Korean Language’, and ‘The Other Korea: North Korea Since 1945’) to provide BA Korean students with a comprehensive understanding of Korea and Korean culture, particularly its rich literary heritage and diverse forms of literary expression. These courses contribute to a well-rounded approach to the study of Korea, and serve to provide BA Korean students with training in research, writing and critical skills, which form the basis of academic scholarship, in addition to language learning.

Each year, BA Korean students are expected to take at least 2 units in Korean language acquisition or language use courses, and 1 or 2 units in lecture-based courses to enhance critical knowledge of Korea. In the case of lecture-based courses, ‘History and Culture of Korea to the Late 19th Century’ (1 unit) and ‘Culture and Society in 20th Century Korea’ (1 unit) are offered in Year 1 or 3, ‘The Other Korea: North Korea Since 1945’ (0.5 unit) in Year 3 or 4, and ‘History and Structure of the Korean Language’ (1 unit) in Year 4. ‘Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea’ (0.5 unit) and ‘Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature’ (0.5 unit) are intended to be taken in Year 3 or 4.

While the course is designed primarily for BA Korean (single-subject and combined degree) students, it could also be offered as a floater to students in Year 3 or 4 from other BA degrees.

This course is designed to provide students with an overview of the history and development of modern Korean literature since the early twentieth-century and the sources for their study, with consideration to issues surrounding modernity, identity, trauma, and cultural memory. It also aims to provide students with the knowledge and skills to read, analyse, and interpret modern Korean literature against the socio-historical and cultural context of the time in which the works were produced, as well as against present day academic contexts.

Each class session will consist of a lecture followed by a seminar. Each week, students will be assigned a set of primary texts (literary works), secondary sources (literary history and criticism, cultural history), and tasks or questions for discussion which they are expected to prepare prior to the next class. In the process, students will be offered training in techniques of textual and literary analysis, and basic research and academic writing skills through course work essays.

Method of assessment

Essay 1 of 1,000 words to be submitted on Friday, week 4, term 2 (20%); Essay 2 of 1,500 words to be submitted on Friday, week 7(week after Reading Week) of term 2 (30%); Essay 3 of 2,500 words to be submitted on last day of term 2 (40%) and seminar presentation 15 minutes on an assigned topic in groups (10%).

Suggested reading

Modern Korean Literary Works in English Translation:
  • Chung, Chong-wha. Classical Korean Literature: An Anthology. London: Kegan Paul International, 1989 (Yi Injik’s “Tears of Blood,” pp. 159-221).
  • Ch’ae Mansik. Peace Under Heaven: A Modern Korean Novel. Trans. Chun Kyung-ja. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1993.
  • Ch’oe In-hun. A Grey Man. Trans. Chun Kyung-Ja. Arch Cape, Oregon: Pace International Research, c. 1988.
  • Ch’oe, Yŏngho, P. H. Lee, and Wm. T. de Bary, eds. Sources of Korean Tradition: Volume Two. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
  • Chung, Chong-wha. Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology 1908-65. London: Kegan Paul International, 1995.
  • Fulton, Bruce, and Youngmin Kwon, eds. Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • --- and Ju-Chan, trans. Wayfarer: New Fiction by Korean Women. Seattle: Women in Translation, 1997.
  • ---. Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers. Seattle: The Seal Press, 1989.
    Hwang Sŏk-yŏng. The Guest. Trans. Kyung-Ja Chun and Maya West. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005.
  • Korean National Commission for UNESCO. Modern Korean Short Stories Series (Volumes 1-10). Seoul: The Si-sa-yŏng-ŏ-sa Publishers, 1983.
  • Lee, Ann Sung-hi. Mujŏng: Yi Kwang-su and Modern Korean Literature. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University East Asia Program, 2005.
  • Lee, Peter H. Flowers of Fire: Twentieth-Century Korean Stories. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.
  • ---. Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
  • Pak Wansŏ. My Very Last Possession and Other Stories. Trans. Chun Kyung-ja et al. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1999.
  • ---. Three Days in that Autumn. Seoul: Jimoondang Publishing Company, 2001.
  • Pihl, Marshall R. et al., trans. Land of Exile: Contemporary Korean Fiction. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1993.
  • Sŏ Chŏngju. Midang Sŏ Chŏngju: The Early Lyrics 1941-1960. Trans. Brother Anthony of Taizé. London: Forest Books, 1993.
  • Suh, Ji-moon, trans. The Golden Pheonix: Seven Contemporary Korean Short Stories. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.
  • ---. The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Short Stories. London: Onyx Press, 1983.
  • Yang Gui-ja. Rust. Trans. Ahn Jung-hyo and Steven D. Capener. Seoul: Jimooondang Publishing Company, 2002.
  • ---. Swamp. Seoul: Jimoondang Publishing Company, 2002.
  • Yi Munyŏl. Hail to the Emperor. Trans. Sol Sun-bong. Seoul: Si-sa-yong-o-sa, 1986.
  • ---. Our Twisted Hero. Trans. Kevin O’Rourke. New York: Hyperion East, 2001.
  • ---. The Poet. Trans. Chung Chong-wha and Brother Anthony of Taizé. London: Harvill Press, 2001.
Korean Literary History and Criticism:
  • Belson, Mark J. “Hyŏn Chin-gŏn’s Philosophy of Wine.” Korean Journal 14:5 (1974): 34-43.
  • Choi Won-shik. “Rethinking Korean Literary Modernity.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 29-57.
  • ---. “Seoul, Tokyo, New York: Modern Korean Literature Seen through Yi Sang’s ‘Lost Flowers’.” Korea Journal 39:4 (1999): 118-43.
  • Hwang Jong-yon. “The Emergence of Aesthetic Ideology in Modern Korean Literary Criticism: An Essay on Yi Gwangsu.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 59-84.
  • Im Hŏn-yŏng. “The Korean Novel in the Eighties.” Korea Journal 26:7 (1986): 4-21.
  • Kim Byong-ik. “The Korean War in Fiction.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 305-17.
  • Kim Chong-un. “Postwar Korean Society and the Short Story: The Case of Son Ch’angsŏp.” Korea Journal 26:4 (1986): 23-31.
  • Kim Hŭnggyu. Understanding Korean Literature. Trans. Robert J. Fouser. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.
  • Kim T’ae-Gil. “A Study of Values as Presented in Contemporary Korean Novels.” Korea Journal 21:5 (1981): 4-20.
  • Kim Uchang. “Extravagance and Authenticity: Romantic Love and the Self in Early Modern Korean Literature.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 3-27.
  • ---. “The Situation of the Writers Under Japanese Colonialism.” Korea Journal 16:5 (1976): 4-15.
  • Kim Yoon-shik. “The Korean Novel in the Age of Industrialization.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 319-27.
  • ---. Understanding Modern Korean Literature. Trans. Jang Gyung-ryul. Seoul: Jipmoondang Publishing Co., 1998.
  • Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed. Korean Literature: Its Classical Heritage and Modern Breakthroughs. Seoul and Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym, 2003.
  • Ku Chung-So. “The Development of Critical Literature in the 80s.” Korea Journal 26:7 (1986): 35-51.
  • Kwon Young-min. “Contemporary Literature as Division Literature.” Korea Journal 27:7 (1987): 34-40.
  • Lee, Grant S. “A Philosophical Appraisal of Yi Kwang-su: Man and Writer.” Korea Journal 17:1 (1977): 40-56.
  • Lee, Ann Sung-hi. “The Early Writings of Yi Gwang-su.” Korea Journal 42:2 (2002): 241-78.
  • Lee Peter H., ed. A History of Korean Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Lee, Younghee. Ideology, Culture, and Han. Seoul: Jimoondang Publishing Company, 2002.
  • McCann, David. Form and Freedom in Korean Poetry. Leiden and New York: Brill, 1988.
  • Mostow, Joshua S., et al., eds. The Columbia Companion to Modern East Asian Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. (Part IV Korea, pp. 617-742)
  • O’Rourke, Kevin. “The Korean Short Story of the 1920s and Naturalism.” Korea Journal 17:3 (1977): 48-63.
  • ---. “Literature after the Korean War.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 291-304.
  • Oh Saeng-Keun. “Seoul and ‘Seoulites’ as Portrayed in Literature.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 347-64.
  • Pihl, Marshall R. “The Nation, the People, and a Small Ball: Literary Nationalism and Literary Populism in Contemporary Korea.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 329-45.
  • Sin Tong-uk. “Hyŏn Chin-gŏn and His Literature.” Korea Journal 16:5 (1976): 16-27.
  • West, Philip and Suh Ji-moon, eds. Remembering the “Forgotten War”: The Korean War Through Literature and Art. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2001.
  • Yu, Beongcheon. Han Yong-un and Yi Kwang-su: Two Pioneers of Modern Korean Literature. Detroit: Wayne State University, 1992.
Related Readings: Korean History, Culture and Reference Guides
  • Eckert, Carter J., et al. Korea Old and New: A History. Seoul: Published for the Korea Institute, Harvard University by Ilchokak; Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Kang, Hildi. Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001.
  • Pang Kie-Chung and Michael D. Shin, eds. Landlords, Peasants, and Intellectuals in Modern Korea. Ithaca and London: Cornell East Asia Series, No. 128, Cornell University Press, 2005.
  • Schmid, Andre. Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • Song, Ki Joong, comp. Glossary of Korean Culture. Seoul: Chimundang, 2001.
Literary Theory:
  • Bennet, Tony. Outside Literature. London: Routledge, 1990.
  • Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1998.
  • Ferguson, Suzanne C. “Defining the Short Story: Impressionism and Form.” In Charles E. May, ed. The New Short Story Theories. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1994, pp. 218-30.
  • Eagleton, Terry. Criticism and Ideology. London: Verso, 1986.
  • ---. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.  
  • Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in this Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Hockx, Michel and Ivo Smits, eds. Reading East Asian Writing: The Limits of Literary Theory.  London: Routledge Curzon, 2003.  
  • Prendergast, Christopher, ed. Debating World Literature. London: Verso, 2004.


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