Comparative Literature and 20th Century Political History

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Olga Sobolev PEL 6.01a and Dr Angus Wrenn PEL 6.01a


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Students can take this course in any year of their studies.


Although an A-level pass or equivalent in Literature is useful, it is not an absolute requirement (especially for General Course Students).

Course content

Comparative literature of the twentieth century leading up to and including the Cold War. (a) Study of major authors (prose, poetry and drama, in English translation where relevant) on both sides of the Iron Curtain with a focus on the recurrent cultural themes: social Utopia/Dystopia; art with a social/political function; the East-West dichotomy in the Cold War; ideological scepticism; individual and the state; the value of political protest (b) Use of video-recording related to the texts (c) Several related trips to galleries, film festivals and theatre productions during the year; (d) Students encouraged to draw upon background in their main discipline, and to read widely.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures and 1 hour of classes in the ST.

Structured activities during the reading week in the MT and LT. Revision workshops and tutorals in the ST.

This course has reading weeks in week 6 of Michaelmas and Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays and 1 presentation in the MT and LT.

Indicative reading

A. Huxley Brave New World; G.B. Shaw Annajanska the Bolshevik Empress; E. Zamyatin We; G. Orwell Animal Farm & 1984; M. Bulgakov The Heart of a Dog; W. H. Auden poems; V. Mayakovsky poems; A. Solzhenitsyn A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; Ian Fleming From Russia with Love; John le Carré Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Peter Scheider The Wall Jumer, Ian McEwan The Innocent, A. Makine A Life's Music; M. Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being;  T. Stoppard Professional Foul; S. Dovlatov The Suitcase; B. Chatwin Utz.


Exam (70%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (30%, 2500 words) in the LT.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
First 43.6
2:1 50.9
2:2 1.8
Third 0
Fail 3.6

Key facts

Department: Language Centre

Total students 2021/22: 24

Average class size 2021/22: 12

Capped 2021/22: Yes (24)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills