Current Teaching

Fall 2018 Courses

English 2040, Mystery and Detective Fiction

E. M. Forster wrote, “‘The king died, and the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and the queen died of grief’ is a plot.  ‘The king died, and no one knew why the queen died until they discovered it was of grief’ is a mystery, a form capable of high development.”  To that I would add, ‘The king died, and the queen died, and everyone thought it was of grief until they found the puncture wound in her throat’—now that is a murder mystery, and that too is capable of high development.  (P. D. James)

From historical to clerical, from academic to urban, from culinary to equestrian, from regional American to vintage English—today, mystery and detective fiction comes in every imaginable variety.  In this course we will look at the origins of the genre in the 19th century and then trace some of its developments in the 20th century.  We will consider formal issues, such as the conventions, limits, and possibilities of a genre premised on secrets and lies; we will look at what these fictions say, directly or indirectly, about meaning, knowledge, law, justice, gender, society, and morality; and we will ponder the ethics of finding crime entertaining.

Plans for the 2018 version of this class are still tentative; check for updates closer to the start of the Fall 2018 term. A detailed syllabus including a full schedule of readings and assignments and information about course policies will be available for registered students on our Brightspace site by late August.

Reading List

 Classic Crime Stories (Dover Thrift Edition)

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

P. D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only

Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses

Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress

English 3032, The Nineteenth-Century British Novel From Dickens to Hardy

In this class we will study British novels from the second half of the nineteenth century. Drawing on the now-established traditions of the novel, authors during this period found ways to revise or challenge its conventions by experimenting with fictional forms, techniques, and subjects. The pressing issues of social and personal reform that motivated earlier Victorian fiction continued to inspire great, moving and innovative writing by novelists such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, represented on the reading list with Dickens’s “favorite child,” David Copperfield, and Hardy’s ruthlessly depressing Jude the Obscure. We will also look at an example of the scandalous genre known as ‘sensation fiction’—Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White—and enjoy a taste of Anthony Trollope’s gentle but stinging social satire in The Warden. And we will treat ourselves to George Eliot’s short but profound Silas Marner, a secular story of sin and redemption. Some of 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.

Plans for the 2018 version of this class (including the reading list) are still tentative; check for updates closer to the start of term. Registered students will have access to our Brightspace site, including a full syllabus and schedule of readings and assignments, by late August.

Reading List

Trollope, The Warden

Dickens, David Copperfield

Collins, The Woman in White

Eliot, Silas Marner

Hardy, Jude the Obscure