2017-18 Teaching

Fall 2017

English 3000, Close Reading (Draft Syllabus)

I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

            —Virginia Woolf

English 3000 is a class about loving reading enough to do it as well as we can. Lingering over the details of our poems and novels, we will consider the literary, historical, political, and ethical implications of the authors’ choices, from the largest (which topic?) to the smallest (which punctuation?). Our most persistent question will be what it means for an author to write about this subject in this particular way—what gets done, and (sometimes more importantly) what does not? What does one literary form or device make happen that another would not? How does Keats use poetic devices to evoke the melancholy music of a nightingale, or John Donne use rhythm to defy death? What is extraordinary about the language of James Joyce’s “Araby”? How can we learn to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s prose better by studying Tennyson’s dramatic monologue “Ulysses”? What happens to readers when Ishiguro uses first-person narration to tell his story of a man who devotes his life to serving a Nazi apologist? How does this narrative choice differ from Eliot’s use of an intrusive narrator in Middlemarch—or from Poe’s first-person narration in “The Black Cat”? What other choices might these writers have made, and with what consequences? These and other important critical and ethical questions can be answered only after close and well-informed reading, and the knowledge and strategies that enable such reading—of these and any literary texts—are the focus of this course.

Book List for English 3000 (confirmed)

Elisabeth Howe, ed. Close Reading: An Introduction to Literature (Longman/Pearson)

George Eliot, Middlemarch (Oxford World’s Classics)

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (Vintage)

Course Requirements

1 poetry annotation; 1 fiction annotation; 1 essay; various exercises and worksheets (as homework and in class)

English 3031, 19th-Century British Fiction From Austen to Dickens (Draft Syllabus)

In this course we will study British novels from the first half of the nineteenth century. During these decades, authors experimented with both the form and the subject matter of fiction as they transformed the novel from a generic upstart into the century’s dominant literary form.  Broad issues our discussions are likely to engage include the relationship of the present to the past, of the individual to society, and of the individual to modern institutions and systems (such as government, law, religion, or industry); problems of self-discovery and identity; questions of love, marriage, and morality; questions of gender, class, and race; and the role of the artist, especially the novelist, and of literature, especially the novel, in investigating, articulating, and affecting all of these issues.  At all times, our primary concern will be to read our books closely and revel in them—to understand, analyze, and appreciate their richness and variety of form, language, and content. To this end, we will pay careful attention to textual detail as well as to these larger themes and patterns. Our readings are long; you should be prepared to put in enough time to read them attentively. But they are also delightful, so your effort will be heartily repaid in pleasure. Regular, well-informed, and enthusiastic class participation will be encouraged; regular, well-informed, and enthusiastic writing will be required.

Book List (confirmed)

 Austen, Persuasion

Thackeray, Vanity Fair

C. Brontë, Jane Eyre

Gaskell, North and South

Dickens, Great Expectations


4 Mini-Midterms (best of 5); 1 short essay; 1 final exam; OR 4 Mini-Midterms (best of 5); 1 short essay; 1 final essay (instructor’s permission required)

Winter 2017

English 1050, Pulp Fiction

The term “pulp fiction” originally referred to cheap paperback books aimed at the mass market rather than the cultural elite. Some of the original “pulps” were reprinted literary classics, but the term “pulp fiction” became most familiarly associated with lurid, sensational stories. Today “pulp fiction” is sometimes used as a general label for popular genres like mysteries, westerns, or romances, but the early connotations of cheap thrills and low quality lingers, and in some circles genre fiction gets as little critical respect as the “pulps” once did. In this class, we will read a selection of novels and short stories from a range of genres associated with the “pulp” tradition, considering their historical contexts, their formal features, and the vexed question of their literary merit – all while enjoying their often spectacular story-telling and entertainment value.

Reading List for English 1050:

  • Coursepack of short readings
  • Elmore Leonard, Valdez is Coming
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
  • Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels

English 4615, Victorian Sensations

Closely linked in themes and plot devices to the Gothic fiction of the late 18thcentury, sensation novels startled Victorian readers by locating crime, secrets, and sexual deviancy, not in remote European castles and convents, but in seemingly respectable English homes. Thus, as Henry James put it, they “introduced into fiction those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors.” They also became a major venue for women novelists, though whether their authors were pandering for profit to the lurid tastes of their audience or seizing an opportunity to expose and critique women’s situation under Victorian patriarchy is the focus of ongoing debate among critics. In this class we will read several examples of Victorian sensation fiction and then conclude with Sarah Waters’s 2002 novel Fingersmith, which deliberately rewrites sensation conventions from a 21st-century angle.

4000-level seminars are meant to build on knowledge of genres and periods that you have acquired in your lower-level course work. A number of our discussions in English 4615 will focus on the relationship of sensation fiction to canonical Victorian fiction. Though background information will be provided at the outset of the course, previous experience reading or studying Victorian fiction (in English 2002, 3031 or 3032, for example) will be an asset; students without such background will probably find it necessary to do some additional reading.

Tentative Book List:

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret

Ellen Wood, East Lynne

Rhoda Broughton, Cometh Up As A Flower

Sarah Waters, Fingersmith