- Major, Minor, and Modified Major
- Creative Writing Concentration
- Foreign Study
- News & Events
Back to Top Nav
Visit the great age of British Satire. In a time when literacy was rapidly expanding, party politics was emerging and women’s rights were being advocated in print for the first time, satire ruled the literary scene. This course will explore the plays, poems, and novels of satirists from the libertine Earl of Rochester to the great satirist, Alexander Pope, not omitting the works of Aphra Behn, the first woman dramatist, and Mary Astell’s sardonic comments on the role of women in marriage. May include: the comedies of Wycherey and Congreve, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, and the novels of Daniel Defoe. There will be an opportunity to study the techniques of satire and its role in social and personal criticism. Dist: LIT; WCult. W. Course Group II.
Was there a British Enlightenment? In the age of the American and French Revolutions, Britain seemed to hold steady. But in the literature of the period there are many social and literary struggles which took their tolls in the madness and suicide of writers such as Smart and Chatterton, the difficulties of attaining creative freedom, and the emergence of new literary forms such as the Gothic. This course will trace the fortunes of writers such as Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, and Edmund Burke as they grapple with the anxieties of their time. We will also consider how women thinkers and novelists such as Charlotte Lennox and Mary Wollstonecraft forged new roles for themselves and we may include studies of the novel of political paranoia as exemplified by Caleb Williams, and by Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
A study of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century English novel, from Daniel Defoe to Jane Austen. The course will look at the major sub-genres of the period, including criminal biography, scandalous memoirs, epistolary fiction and the Gothic novel. It will also explore the relationship between narrative fiction and the changing cultural landscape of a period defined by commercial uncertainty, imperial expansion, and the threat of revolution. Finally, and most importantly, the course will ask why the novel became so central to modern conceptions of subjectivity, sexuality, social cohesion and transgression. Readings may include work by Daniel Defoe, John Cleland, Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Charlotte Dacre, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen. Dist: LIT, WCult:W Course Group II.
The modern conception of the imagination as a force for radical social change emerged, in large part, thanks to the aesthetic innovations of Romantic writers working in the wake of the French Revolution. At the same time, however, the prospect of revolutionary violence made the imagination a dangerous, and intensely debated faculty, as promising as it was potentially pathological, and as likely to produce a Gothic nightmare as a pastoral utopia. This course will examine the richly varied forms of literary and political experience that emerge out of this moment, and that continue to shape modern conceptions of creativity, sexuality, ecology and social transformation. Readings include works by William Blake, William Wordsworth, Percy and Mary Shelley, John Keats, and Thomas de Quincey. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
A young Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, the same year Charles Dickens published his first novel, The Pickwick Papers. The early British Victorian period (1837-1859) was an age of intense social and political reform, as well as a time of vibrant literary production and artistic innovation. This course emphasizes close reading as well as historical and cultural context, asking several key questions about the period: How were Gothic tropes from the 18th century adapted to tell stories of crime and detection in the London streets? To what extent did debates about industrialization and the rights of the working classes intersect, overlap, or compete with discussions about race and the new popularity of minstrel shows and Orientalist spectacles on the London stage? Did the invention of photography alter the language of vision and surveillance found in popular novels of the period? How did the coronation of a female queen influence debates about female education and legal rights? We will read fiction, poetry, and drama alongside architectural treatises, visual images, political essays, pseudo-scientific texts, and contemporary literary criticism. Readings may include texts by Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, the Bronte sisters, and Ira Aldridge. Dist: LIT. WCult: W. Course Group II.
The second half of the British Victorian period (1860-1901) witnessed immense social, geographical, political, and artistic changes: the rise of the New Woman and debates about female sexuality, a surge in religious doubt, public discussion of economic theories and Socialist ideals, the expansion of the Empire, and fallout from theories of evolution. In studying these concurrent (and sometimes contradictory) discourses, this class emphasizes close reading as well as historical and cultural contexts. We will read fiction, poetry, and drama alongside scientific publications, artistic manifestos, political essays, visual images, and contemporary literary criticism. Readings may include texts by George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Christina Rossetti, Charles Darwin, George Bernard Shaw, William Morris, and Matthew Arnold. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
The British novel achieved great popularity during the nineteenth century as it became a realist form with increasing complexities of plot and character. During a period of imperial and economic expansion, too, great works of fiction participated in widespread debates about progress, empire, Englishness, and evolutionary thought. We will look at fiction's contributions to such cultural debates, considering the novel's powerful critique of empire and dreams of progress; the importance of formations of English identity to plot and character; reactions in fiction to evolutionary revisions of history; and how Victorian fiction signals the importance of class, gender, and race to character development. Readings may include Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Charles DIckens's Great Expectations, Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
This course is an introduction to reading poetry and also a survey of the early period of American poetry from 1650-1900. Although often seen as a tradition dominated by white men, this course emphasizes aspects of American poetry rooted in the “queer” sensibility of Puritan Edward Taylor, the female consciousness of Anne Bradstreet, the Black and female consciousness of Lucy Terry and Phillis Wheatley, the Puritan/queer inheritors Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and the early modernism of Stephen Crane. Emphasizing close readings as well as historical and cultural contexts, this course examines the often obscured aspects of the American poetic tradition. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
A survey of American non-fiction narrative and other prose from the early republic to the rise of modernism. The course examines how autobiographies (Franklin, Douglass, Larcom, Thoreau, Stein) and other prose genres construct individual selves and national belonging while negotiating the pressures of transcendentalism, abolitionism, feminism, and class consciousness by means of aesthetic experimentation. Additional authors vary but often include Jefferson, Apess, Fuller, Hemingway, Adams, Hurston, Kerouac, and Agee. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
Example of ENGL 28 student work: Rauner Library Blog
A survey of the first century of U.S. fiction, this course focuses on historical contexts as well as social and material conditions of the production of narrative as cultural myth. The course is designed to provide an overview of the literary history of the United States novel from the National Period to the threshold of the Modern (1845-1900). To do justice to the range of works under discussion, the lectures will call attention to the heterogeneous cultural contexts out of which these works have emerged as well as the formal and structural components of the different works under discussion. In keeping with this intention, the lecturers include the so-called classic texts in American literature, The Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, but also the newly canonized Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Life in the Iron Mills, and Hope Leslie in the hope that the configuration of these works will result in an understanding of the remarkable complexity of United States literary culture. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
A study of the foundations of Black American literature and thought, from the colonial period through the era of Booker T. Washington. The course will concentrate on the way in which developing Afro-American literature met the challenges posed successively by slavery, abolition, emancipation, and the struggle to determine directions for the twentieth century. Selections will include: Wheatley, Life and Works; Brown, Clotel; Douglass, Narrative; Washington, Up from Slavery; DuBois, Souls of Black Folk; Dunbar, Sport of the Gods; Chestnut, House Behind the Cedars; Harriet Wilson, Our Nig; Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man; and poems by F. W. Harper, Paul L. Dunbar and Ann Spencer. Dist: LIT. WCult: W. Course Group II.
These courses are offered periodically with varying content: one or more individual writers, a genre, or an approach to the literature of this historical period not otherwise provided in the English curriculum. Requirements will include papers and, at the discretion of the instructor, examinations. Enrollment is limited to 30. Dist: LIT; WCult: Varies.
The poems of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, for all their thematic and stylistic differences, intersect on a number of important levels. In particular, their respective constructions of a new poetic voice revolve around related notions of the nonhuman world and human-nature relations. In this course, we will approach Whitman’s and Dickinson’s poetry by way of theories and concepts developed in environmentally oriented criticism, or ecocriticism. Beginning with a discussion of ecocriticism’s major theoretical interventions, we will explore its genealogy and recent controversies about ethics and aesthetics, place and displacement, transnationalism and globalization. A reading informed by these debates reveals complex and often ambivalent environmental implications in Whitman’s and Dickinson’s work. We will look at a wide variety of their poems against major nineteenth-century transformations, including shifts in the natural sciences and their relationship to religion, the emerging conservation movement, the political conflicts that led to the civil war, and changing notions of the body, gender, and sexuality. Enrollment is limited to 30. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Group II
Surveys in American literature often omit the Civil War. Yet the war called forth a vast range of literary responses, in genres as diverse as poetry, popular song, novels and other prose genres. This course will examine how literature depicts the war, and where the limits of that depiction lie. Readings include works by anonymous authors alongside Walt Whitman, Frances E.W. Harper, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Louisa May Alcott, George Moses Horton, Albion Tourgé, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
This course examines the work of David Drake, a South Carolinian slave who made some of the largest ceramic storage vessels of this region, signing them and etching sayings and poems onto them as well. This seminar engages with Drake's poetry-pottery through critical and historical research, interpretive writing, and our own creative adventures in ceramic handicrafts. As a culminating assignment, students will contribute chapters to a scholarly book on Drake, which the professor shall edit. Dist: ART; Course Group II
The course will feature weekly readings from each of the writers – Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville – F.O. Matthiessen included under that rubric in his benchmark American Renaissance; Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. Students will also read key works that American Literature scholars have added to Matthiessen’s canon: Margaret Fuller’s Woman in the 19th Century, Frederick Douglass,’s The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
This course will examine the phenomenon of moral panic in nineteenth-century British literature and culture through two linked but distinctive forms of sexual subjectivity: female heterosexuality and male homosexuality, connected forever in the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act that set the stage for the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde. We will consider the relationship between realist and sensationalist literary forms to trace the emergence and regulation of distinctly modern sexual subjectivities in mid- and late-nineteenth-century Britain. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
The vampire, the doppelganger, the automaton, the femme fatale, the serial killer, even the city itself as a pathological public space: these figures inhabit popular fiction at the end of the nineteenth century, expressionist cinema at the start of the twentieth century, and have been staples of mass culture ever since. Focusing on the relationship between fin-de-siècle Gothic fiction and its early cinematic adaptation, this course will explore the images of monstrosity that embody anxieties about changing media landscapes, emerging media forms, and the increasingly mediated character of human relationships between the 1880s and the 1920s. Primary texts and films will include R.L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. We will also read theoretical work by Hugo Münsterberg, Laura Mulvey, Otto Rank, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Friedrich Kittler. Dist: LIT, WCult: W. Course Group II.
Inspired by the motto of Dartmouth College, this course examines tropes of wilderness in nineteenth-century American literature and the types of voices that cry out within them. While helping to establish a national literary tradition, the American 'deserto' or wilderness has also functioned as a kind of rhetorical staging area, in which various (often competing) notions of individualism, community, and political philosophy emerge. As a result, the novels, poems, slave narratives, and short stories of nineteenth-century American literature abound with landscapes as social and psychological as they are physical. Authors will include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Chesnutt, Mark Twain, and Willa Cather. Dist: LIT; WCult: W.; Course Group II.
Two hundred years ago, in 1819, Daniel Webster argued a case in front of the Supreme Court defending his alma mater, Dartmouth College, against the predations of
the State of New Hampshire. The Court found in favor of Dartmouth, which preserved the College as a private entity. Perhaps more importantly, it also laid the legal foundation for the modern economy, where corporate firms are to some extent free of state control. This course aims for a comprehensive understanding of the Dartmouth College Case and Daniel Webster by integrating the perspectives of American studies, history, political theory, and law. Dist: TMV. Course Group II.
From crumbling monasteries and crafty priests, to bleeding nuns and fake hauntings, gothic novels exploded in popularity in late eighteenth century British print culture. But what happens when the strange tropes, figures, and rhetorical techniques of the gothic travels across the Atlantic to adapt to the dark pathologies and monstrous histories of the Americas? This course will expand notions of the gothic to frameworks that understand late eighteenth to early nineteenth century gothic literature as a transatlantic phenomenon. Reading the complex interrelations of Atlantic rim cultures, we will look at the centrality of gender and sexuality as it intersects with topics such as colonialism, slavery, disease, conspiracy, trance, and the foreign in the atmospheric terror of the gothic. Readings may include fiction by Ann Radcliffe, Monk Lewis, Charles Brockden Brown, William Godwin, Charlotte Smith, Heinrich Von Kleist, Victor Hugo, John Howison, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sheridan Le Fanu. We will also read theory by Sigmund Freud, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tzvetan Todorov and others. Dist: LIT. Course Group II.
The publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 caused a crisis in religious faith. Evolution brought God to his knees, or so the story goes. Yet this claim over-simplifies the situation. It underestimates how the Christian God and evolutionary theory both shaped debates and structures of thought in the nineteenth century. How did these “divergent” systems of belief shape how people understood the world and their place in it? How did writers use religious faith and/or scientific evidence to structure narrative and tell new types of stories? How did Darwin and other scientists use literary techniques to convey their ideas to a widespread audience? This course emphasizes close reading as well as historical and scientific context, focusing on five themes that arose from the juxtaposition of God and Darwin in nineteenth-century British literature and culture: Creation and Design, Selection and Extinction, Heredity and Development, Time and Progress, and Human/Animal. Dist: TMV: WCult: W. Course Group II.
It is said that the Victorians “invented” childhood: a state of freedom, play, creativity, and innocence. The orphans, adventurers, tricksters, and runaways in Victorian children’s books make friends with pirates, talk to animals, fly through the sky, and fall down rabbit holes. What made these stories so popular in the nineteenth century, and why do they continue to enchant readers? This course explores the genre of Victorian children’s literature in relation to such themes as Romantic innocence, nature and animal studies, climate change, sexuality and queerness, evolution, colonialism and race, disability studies, global economics, and play. Throughout the course, we’ll think about how stories for children are constructed and how writers and artists have adapted these Victorian texts for later audiences (e.g. through film, graphic novels, and fan fiction). The course will include both critical and creative assignments. Texts may include: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll), Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson), The Jungle Books (Rudyard Kipling), Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), and fairytales by Oscar Wilde. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
How does the shape of a narrative change the way we experience it? Beginning in 1836 with Charles Dickens’ first novel, Victorian audiences often read texts as weekly and monthly ‘parts’ rather than as literary ‘wholes’. In 2007, Netflix introduced streaming, and in 2013, the company began producing original content. Instead of waiting a week for the next television episode, audiences could binge watch entire seasons (or more). Both the serial and digital streaming have been called revolutionary, but what does this mean? This course pairs Victorian serial novels and Netflix original series in order to think critically about structure and form. How does the play between serial part and whole necessitate new temporalities, strategies of characterization and narration, and types of suspense? How does binge-watching disrupt or reshape narrative time and sequencing? How have both new forms altered cultural discourses on gender, social consciousness, crime, and politics? How do narratives intersect with other types of seriality, including evolution, reproduction and inheritance, election cycles, and the #MeToo movement? This course emphasizes close reading and watching as well as narrative theory and reception and moves between nineteenth-century novels and twenty-first century series. Dist: LIT; WCult. W. Course Group II.
The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the diversity and commercial potential of popular fiction. Detective fiction, science fiction, and the Gothic novel are a few of the genres that came into their own during this period, partly as a result of their ability to evoke the fantasies and anxieties of Victorian Britain and its empire. In this course we will think about the relationship of popular texts to imperial visions of race, sexuality, exploration, evolution, extinction, and invasion. We will also look at the relationship between fiction, the commercialization of publishing and the emergence of new media technologies like photography and film. Writers may include Mary Braddon, H. Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Marie Corelli. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
Limited to 20 students, these courses will vary in content. They are intended to introduce students to advanced research and prepare them for their senior seminars and honors theses. Coursework and instruction will build toward a substantial paper of 12-15 pages of sustained inquiry and with a research component. Recommended prerequisites: two completed English courses, or permission of the instructor. Dist: LIT: WCult: Varies.
The year 1848 was, for most of Western Europe, a year of revolution. In England, one of the few countries to escape widespread violence, 1848 was a year of rampant publication. The texts published in the UK, ranging from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto to Gothic novels and Pre-Raphaelite poems, do not always seem obviously radical or even similar to one another in theme and mood. Are these texts in fact revolutionary? Are any of the texts politically or socially conservative, or do they represent conservative characters or perspectives? Do they take revolutionary forms or structures? To what extent are the texts participating in the same public sphere and historical moment? In responding to these questions, this colloquium will read literary texts (by Gaskell, Dickens, Emily Bronte, Christina Rossetti, Browning, and Tennyson) alongside artistic and political manifestos, popular political poetry, visual images, scientific and critical prose, and contemporary literary criticism (feminist, Marxist, psychoanalytic, poststructuralist). Students will work toward a substantial research project (12-15 pages) focused on a topic related to the course and of their choosing. DIST: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
This colloquium offers an in-depth study of the poetry of Emily Dickinson with a particular focus on how the tools of the digital humanities have renovated our views, including unsettling just what a Dickinson poem is. Since her death in 1886, rival editors have fought over Dickinson’s canon, producing their versions of her poetry. Likewise, biographers have romanticized her life, characterizing her as “The Belle of Amherst,” eccentric, reclusive and even a bit mad. Then, in 1981, Ralph Franklin published The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson, an event that revolutionized Dickinson studies. Scholars began working with the extensive manuscripts, sewn booklets called fascicles, loose sheets, letters, and fragments, revealing how Dickinson herself preserved her poetic “performances,” often “choosing not choosing,” as Sharon Cameron describes the poet’s preservation of many variations of poems. These developments have inspired an ongoing “undoing” of a century of editorial, biographical and critical work that has been abetted by the wide availability of Dickinson’s manuscripts in digital form. This colloquium will introduce students to the “new” Dickinson that is emerging from the plethora of materialist, feminist, post-modernist, and cultural studies approaches. We will use digital archives to reread and reconsider Dickinson’s work and life. Finally, we will study the year 1862, an immensely productive time for Dickinson and the height of the Civil War, also the focus of an annual daily blog I am preparing. For their final projects, students will examine one week of poetry in this tumultuous year, producing research that will be vetted for inclusion on the blog. DIST: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
For the first time in literary history, women writers found commercial and critical success in England during the nineteenth century. Women writers of this time were keen observers of the social codes that formed—and constrained—their identities. Though women wrote in many genres in this period, this course will focus on major novels of the nineteenth century because of the particular strategies female novelists used to open up hard questions about social identity, and particularly social possibilities for women. Questions about gender clearly implicate sexuality, class, ethnicity, race, and power, as well, in complex, compelling, and unexpected ways. We will read works by Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot, and we will end the class by reading substantial excerpts from the private, unpublished diaries of the women writers who published as “Michael Field.” Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
In this class we will explore some of the fundamental questions of both trauma studies and American literature: Is trauma an event, a process, or a condition of being? Is sex or power more predominant in human relations? Why do we put ourselves in harm’s way despite our better intentions? Are life’s worst experiences always immitigable injustices, or are they potentially transformative? When, if ever, is a traumatic episode ‘past’? Authors include Harriet Jacobs, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Mary Rowlandson, Anne Bradstreet (with John Berryman), Susanna Rowson, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ambrose Bierce and critical essays by Toni Morrison, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Byung-Chul Han, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Lacan, Cathy Caruth, Dorothy Stringer and Mitchell Brietwieser. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
As novels, and translated into film and television, Jane Austen's fiction has recently achieved extraordinary popularity, much greater than she experienced in her lifetime. In this course, discussions will focus on the times and the culture in which she wrote and on her more recent popularity. Topics will include Austen's reactions against Romanticism; her continuing exploration of the moral and emotional dynamics of domestic life; her concern with the freedom of middle-class women; her use of history; her innovations in fictional narrative; and translations of her fiction into film. We will read Northanger Abbey (written 1797, published 1818), Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816), and Persuasion, (written 1816, published 1818), and view film versions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion. Dist: LIT; WCult: W Course Group II.
In Victorian England, a person’s face was his or her calling card: a clue to social identity, a signifier of inner personality, or a mask, a socially-constructed and performed persona. The period witnessed the expansion of photography, the popularity of pseudo-sciences such as physiognomy and phrenology, and the “scientific” study of race—disciplines that focused on the policing of a material body. At the same time, the Victorian period witnessed the emergence of an alternative vector of realism that rejected an emphasis on the “seen” and expanded the categories of who and what could be represented: women, industrial workers, and people of color. In analyzing these competing fields of realism, this colloquium will read literary texts alongside artistic manifestos, scientific and pseudo-scientific prose, visual images, and contemporary literary criticism (poststructuralist, psychoanalytic, feminist, queer, performance theory, critical race). Possible authors include Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Amy Levy, and Bram Stoker. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
When does slavery find itself chiasmatically mirrored in freedom? From the recent Hollywood blockbuster 12 Years a Slave (2013) to the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, the legacies of slavery and racial violence continue to cast their shadow over horizons of emancipationist history even as America commemorates the sesquicentennial of the U.S. Civil War. In this course we will revisit the literatures of slavery and antislavery in the Atlantic world from the eighteenth century to the present. Our novels and stories imagine episodes of slavery, slave rebellion, and fugitive flights to freedom across two centuries: from early transatlantic crossings of slaves and servants to the New World; to Tacky’s Revolt and its place in what Vincent Brown has recently called the “Coromantee Archipelago” in eighteenth century slave rebellion; to the spectacular soundings of the Haiti Revolution in the Age of Revolutions; to the messianic prophecies of Nat Turner in the early nineteenth century; to slave rebellions at sea; and finally to fugitive slave fictions in the abolitionist decade leading up to the Civil War. Dist: LIT; WCult: NW. Course Group II & Course Group IV
Senior Seminars, limited to 12 seniors and juniors, will vary in content. They will focus students on concentrated discussions and on a final research project of 20-25 pages. Recommended prerequisites: four completed English courses or permission of the instructor. Dist: LIT. WCult: Varies.
Although Walt Whitman famously claimed that “the real war will never get into the books,” the American Civil War did in fact call forth a vast range of literary responses, in genres as diverse as poetry, popular song, novels and other prose genres. In this course, we will examine how literature depicts the war, and especially how it grapples with Whitman’s claim that there is something unrepresentable about the war’s carnage. Readings may include Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps (1872), Herman Melville’s Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), Words for the Hour: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, Louisa May Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches” (1869), and excerpts from Little Women (1869) and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage (1895). Dist: LIT, WCult: W. Course Group II.
The end of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of genuinely mass readerships, but it also saw the development of literary forms that pitted themselves against the commercialization and homogenization of literary culture. In this course we will look at so-called decadent writers and artists who imagined heightened forms of aesthetic experience in order to displace the political and sexual norms of their societies. We will also examine the controversies their work evoked and the theories of degeneration, deviance and abnormality that were frequently deployed to explain their excesses. Texts will include Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, J.K. Huysmans’s Against Nature, Marie Corelli’s Wormwood, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dist. LIT: Course Group II.
Bohemia - an urban underworld of social outcasts, struggling artists, and political conspirators - is one of the most enduring fantasies to emerge out of the nineteenth century. By the 1890s, the figure of the Bohemian had become central to a cosmopolitan literary culture eager to assert its autonomy from the marketplace and restrictive notions of nationality. It had also become bound up with a range of anxieties fixated on cultural decadence, racial degeneration, transgressive sexuality, political revolution and the occult. This course will study a series of novels that foreground these issues, including Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, George Gissing's New Grub Street, George Du Maurier's Trilby and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. We will also glance ahead to early twentieth-century texts like Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer. Dist: LIT, WCult: W. Course Group II.
What can the literature of a single decade tell us? From The Scarlet Letter(1850) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851-52) to Leaves of Grass (1855) and Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech of 1858, the literary output of America in the 1850s provides us with a snapshot of a turbulent culture amidst unprecedented growth and crisis. Slavery and xenophobia, minstrelsy and mass entertainments, crowds, consumerism, and cities, the “woman question,” labor rights, economic panics, and the secularization of Christian sentiment—these are just some of the issues that clamor in the literature of the decade. Our texts shall represent the gorgeous miscellany that is the 1850s, drawing from both high and low culture, canonical and forgotten authors, and from both established genres and media like novels and slave narratives to more ephemeral ones like newspapers, almanacs, caricatures, and inscribed material objects. Classes will meet in Rauner so that we may use these and other period rarities to spawn discussion and topics for original, independent research. In addition to the rich content of the texts themselves (their historical contexts and theoretical possibilities), another object of inquiry shall be the nature of literary history itself. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
This class will focus on the work of Charles Dickens in two distinct contexts. First, we will spend the term engaging in an intensive, deliberately slow reading of Dickens’s Bleak House, which was published from March, 1852 to September, 1853, in 20 monthly parts. By spreading our reading of this long, complex novel over the span of the fall term, we will gain access to something like the experience of its first readers, who encountered the text in units of several chapters, separated by time. Second, we will put Dickens and Bleak House in conversation with three other novelists and novels that shared the moment in the marketplace: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, published serially and edited by Dickens in 1851-52, Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, published in 1853, and Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, published in 1855. Through work in Rauner Library, we will learn about the material history of literary production in the mid-Victorian period, and through engagement with contemporary critical and theoretical texts, we will learn about the implications of the narrative experiments Dickens, Gaskell, Brontë, and Trollope undertook in the 1850s. Though reading for the course will be demanding, keeping up will be rewarded with ample room for lively in-class discussions. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group II.
Recent critics have argued that our image of “nature” as static and separate from humans is our chief stumbling block in cultivating ecological thought. In this course, we will read literature from the eighteenth century to track the emergence and environmental legacy of developments such as the Industrial Revolution and the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which humans became the primary driver of climate change. Topics will include the vogue for georgic poetry, the aesthetics of the sublime, colonial expansion, the rise of natural history, it-narratives and thing theory, and questions of the animal. We will read contemporary theory about ecology and object-oriented ontology in the context of the eighteenth century and twenty-first century environmental concerns. Dist: LIT. Course Group II.
Who were the Brontës and why have their novels remained so popular? What do their texts tell us about Victorian discourses on childhood, gender, space and psycho-geographies, class discontent, empire and globalization, labor and industry, religion, creativity, and language? What do we gain or lose by studying their biographies: tales of four siblings living in isolation on the Yorkshire moors, publishing pseudonymously, and dying young? In this course, we will look closely at the literary production of the Brontës, beginning with the fantastical tales and poetry they wrote as young adults. Topics will include female labor, evangelicalism, the Victorian Gothic, marriage and women’s legal rights, storytelling and myth, colonialism, feminized and racialized madness, and the physical and psychological contours of domestic and foreign space. Dist: LIT; WCult. W. Course Group II.