SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Readings in Korean Literature (Masters)

Module Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year


Please note that this is NOT a language acquisition course, and students must already have higher intermediate / advanced level competency in reading modern Korean when enrolling in the course.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • demonstrate advanced competence in reading and understanding literary works in Korean;
  • demonstrate advanced critical skills in analysing literary works through close readings of texts
  • question, identify, and discuss issues surrounding literary language, style, and genre in Korean literary tradition;
  • identify and use relevant reference materials, critical sources and methods in reading and understanding Korean literary texts from different time periods;
  • assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course.


This course will be taught over 22 weeks with 1 lecture and an further 2 hours will be spent in seminars/tutorials over the 22 week period.

Scope and syllabus

This course is designed to complement Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea (Masters) and Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature (Masters) to provide MA Korean Literature students with comprehensive training in advanced reading, analytical and critical skills in the study of Korean literature. While the other two courses are designed to provide students with a critical understanding and overview of Korean literature with consideration to socio-historical context and cultural developments through diverse source materials, this course focuses on developing skills in close readings and analysis of literary language and texts in Korean. The course is intended as a compulsory course for MA Korean Literature students, but can also be taken by MA Comparative Literature and MA Korean Studies students who are able to read Korean and interested in taking the course for comparative purposes.

The course consists of lectures and seminars. In the lectures, specific topics related to literary style, genre, and methodology will be examined, and students will be assigned tasks or questions for discussion each week. The seminar sessions will be directed readings of prescribed texts from different periods of Korean literary history. Students are expected to prepare English translations and an analysis of assigned passages prior to each seminar session, and present their preparation in finished form.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (70%); essay 1 of 2,500 words to be submitted on last day of term 1 (15%); essay 2 of 2,500 words to be submitted on last day of term 2 (15%).

Suggested reading

NOTE: All books are already in the Library

Primary Texts and Secondary Sources in Korean
A selection of literary works and secondary sources in Korean will be made available in a study pack.

Korean Literary History and Criticism

  • Allen, Chizuko T. “Northeast Asia Centered Around Korea: Ch’oe Namson’s View of History.” The Journal of Asian Studies 49:4 (Nov., 1990): 787-806.
  • Bantly, Francisca Cho. Embracing Illusion: Truth and Fiction in The Dream of the Nine Clouds.
  • Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.
  • Grayson, James H. “The Myth of Tan’gun: A Dramatic Structural Analysis of a Korean Foundation Myth.” Korea Journal 37.1 (Spring 1997): 35-52.
  • Kontsevich, Lev R. “Reconstructing the Text of the Tan’gun Myth and Its Proper Names.” In Sang-Oak Lee and Duk-Soo Park, eds. Perspectives on Korea. Sydney: Wild Peony, 1998.
  • Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed. Korean Literature: Its Classical Heritage and Modern Breakthroughs. Seoul and Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym, 2003.
  • Lee Peter H., ed. A History of Korean Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Lee, Younghee. “Gender Specificity in Late-Chosŏn Buddhist Kasa.” Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies 6.1 (2006): 61-88.
  • McBride, Richard D. “The Vision-Quest Motif in Narrative Literature on the Buddhist Traditions of Silla.” Korean Studies 27 (2004): 16-47.
  • Sørensen, Henrik. “Problems with using the Samguk yusa as a source for the history of Korean Buddhism.” Cahiers d'Études Coreénnes 7 (2000): 271-88.
  • Trotsevic, A.F. “Korean Fiction and History.” In Daniel Bouchez, et al., eds. Twenty Papers on Korean Studies Offered to Professor W.E. Skillend. Paris: Centre d’études Coréennes, Collège de France, 1989, pp.313-23.

Related Readings: Korean History, Culture and Reference Guides

  • Gardiner, Kenneth H. J. “Samguk sagi and its Sources.” Papers on Far Eastern History 2 (September 1970): 1-41. 
  • Kim Taijin, ed. and trans. A Bibliographical Guide to Traditional Korean Sources. Seoul: Asiatic Research Center, 1976. 
  • Nahm, Andrew C. Korea, Tradition and Transformation: A History of the Korean People. Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym International Corp., 1988. 
  • Pai, Hyung Il. Constructing “Korean” Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography, and Racial Myth in Korean State-Formation Theories. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2000. 
  • Robinson, Michael. “Narrative Politics, Nationalism and Korean History.” Paper of the British Association for Korean Studies 6 (1996): 26-40. 
  • Skillend, W. E. Kodae Sosŏl: A Survey of Korean Traditional Style Popular Novels. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, c. 1968.
  •  Song, Ki Joong, comp. Glossary of Korean Culture. Seoul: Chimundang, 2001.p. 313-23.

Literary Theory

  • Barthes, Roland. “Historical Discourse.” In Michael Lane, ed. Structuralism: A Reader. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970, pp. 145-55.
  • Beebee, Thomas O. The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, c. 1994.
  • Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1998.
  • Culler, Jonathan. The Pursuit of Signs. London and New York: Routledge, 2001 (c. 1981).
  • Eagleton, Terry.  Function of Criticism. London: Verso, 1984.
  • 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.
  • Jameson, Fredric. The Ideologies of Theory: Essays 1971-1986, Volume 1: Situations of Theory (Theory and History of Literature, Volume 48). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.
  • Prendergast, Christopher, ed. Debating World Literature. London: Verso, 2004.
  • Said, Edward. The World, the Text and the Critic. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules