Current Teaching

Winter 2018 Courses

English 1050, Pulp Fiction MWF 1:30-2:30

Creating a fantasy world is one of the primary functions of all popular fiction. The mystery novel gives us a world of perfect justice, the western a world with no moral ambiguities. And the romance novel gives us two empowered and integrated human beings.  — Susan Elizabeth Phillips

In this section of English 1050 we will study examples of fiction from a range of popular genres—the Western, the mystery, and the romance—that will give us opportunities to test Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s comments about them. Perfect justice? No moral ambiguities? Empowered human beings? Maybe—or maybe not! Although we will spend some of our time on literary and historical contexts specific to the genres we’ll be focusing on, English 1050 is above all an introductory literature class and a writing class: its primary goal is to familiarize you with the central terms and methods of good literary analysis and to improve your essay writing skills. You will be challenged to engage actively and thoughtfully with our texts through discussion, regular informal writing, and formal writing assignments.

Readings: Elmore Leonard, Valdez Is Coming; Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon; Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels; assorted short fiction.

English 4615, Victorian Sensations MWF 10:30-11:30

Closely linked in themes and plot devices to the Gothic fiction of the late 18th century, 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 of the genre—which this term will include us! In this class we will read four examples of Victorian sensation fiction—The Woman in White, Lady Audley’s Secret, Cometh Up As A Flower, and East Lynne—along with contemporary and current critical takes on them, and conclude with Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith, which rewrites sensation conventions from a distinctly 21st-century angle.

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.

Tentative 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

Sjowall and Wahloo, The Terrorists

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.

Tentative Reading List

Trollope, The Warden

Dickens, David Copperfield

Collins, The Woman in White

Eliot, Silas Marner

Hardy, Jude the Obscure