Department of English


Advanced Seminar Descriptions: Spring and Fall 2015

ENG 380 Madness, Marriage, and Monstrosity

Instructor: B. London
CRN: 85446, Fall 2015
MW 1150-1305

The nineteenth-century novel is usually associated with Victorian values: happy marriage; wholesome homes; moral propriety; properly channeled emotions and ambitions. Many of the most popular novels, however, paint a very different picture: with madwomen locked in attics and asylums; monsters, real and imagined, lurking behind the facade of propriety; genteel homes harboring opium addicts; fallen women walking the streets; and sexual transgression and degeneracy popping up everywhere. Indeed, for novels centrally structured around marriage and society, madness and monstrosity appear with alarming regularity. The intertwining of these tropes suggests some of the cultural anxieties unleashed by the new body of women writers and women readers. We will begin with Frankenstein and end with Dracula, two novels from opposite ends of the century. We will also consider such classic marriage plot novels as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and some popular sensation fiction of the 1860s.

ENG 380 Mystical Literature: Melting into God and Marrying Jesus in Medieval England

Instructor: S. Rozenski
CRN: 85437, Fall 2015
TR 1525-1640

Written accounts of the experience of divine presence are the core of a tradition we now call “mystical” (and which was, in the Middle Ages, most often called “contemplative”). Mystical literature offers a rich array of potential resolutions to some of the fundamental contradictions at the very heart of the Christian tradition. God is transcendent yet immanent -- revealed through both scripture and revelation, yet unknown and hidden. Christ, both divine and human, is married to both the soul and the church; the fairly explicit erotic poetry in the Bible is said to represent this. Even scriptural meaning is never transparent: a long tradition of exegesis took care to distinguish the literal and the allegorical meanings of sacred texts.

The authors introduced in this course grappled with these issues in language that can paradoxically both affirm and deny its own capacity to discuss God. Together, we will study some of the key texts of this tradition: the works of theologians Pseudo-Dionysius and Hildegard von Bingen, condemned heretics Meister Eckhart and Marguerite Porete, popular devotional writer Henry Suso, the Yorkshire hermit Richard Rolle, the Dutch beguine Hadewijch, and the English anchoress Julian of Norwich -- as well as anonymous works such as The Cloud of Unknowing and The Seven Points of True Love and Everlasting Wisdom. We’ll end the semester by looking at the uses of mysticism in the 20th and 21st centuries, with particular attention to T.S. Eliot’s 1943 masterpiece, Four Quartets.

Although we will be reading medieval mystical texts from across Europe primarily in either Middle English or modern English translation, the history of their reception, transmission, and translation will also be considered as student interest warrants.

ENG 380 The Early American Novel: From Seduction to Sublimity

Instructor: E. Tawil
CRN: 79252, Spring 2015
TR 1230-1345

We’ll trace the remarkable developments of the novel form in the U.S, from the decade after the Revolution (when Americans first begin to write long prose fictions) to the decade before the Civil War (when the American novel claimed its ascent to literary Art). All along the way, we will be reading “novels,” yes, but it will quickly become apparent how varied a form this noun actually names; we’ll read a broad range of the novel’s different modes (the epistolary novel, the novel of seduction, the gothic, the historical novel, sentimental-domestic fiction, the Romance). We begin in the 1780s, when the American novel is just trying to find its feet, and yet sees itself as having a profound political duty to serve the national interest. Even fictional writings about sexual conduct—the seduction novels with which we begin the course—charged themselves with this grave nationalist purpose. We then follow the form through the early nineteenth century, as it becomes obsessed with the topics of race and violence that now threatened to destroy the young nation. Strange as it may seem, the novel in the period seemed to believe that it could resolve massive real-world crises, particularly slavery and white-Indian conflicts over land ownership, in fictional and symbolic terms. We end in the 1850s when American novelists asserted that their writing was relatively autonomous from politics, and—as part of the same gesture—transcended everyday life to achieve “Literature” with a capital L. We spend the last month with the widely advertised literary masterworks of Hawthorne and Melville, asking ourselves how the novel had progressed from a didactic form of social consciousness to a species of writing that could open a world of sublime aesthetic experience. Readings will likely include works by: Hannah Webster Foster (The Coquette), Charles Brockden Brown (Edgar Huntly), James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Martin Delany (Blake), Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter), and Herman Melville (Moby-Dick).

ENG 380 Major Authors: Ernest Hemingway

Instructor: G. Grella
CRN: 75999, Spring 2015
MW 1525-1640

The course will consider the life and work of the most famous American writer of the 20th century; we will read and discuss the major novels and short stories, perhaps some of the nonfiction, and screen a few of the films based on his writing. Assignments will consist of reports and papers on selected works and some secondary material. We will spend most of our class time on discussion rather than lectures, so participation and dialogue will be important components of our study.

ENG 380 Nobel Prize Literature

Instructor: B. London
CRN: 40276, Spring 2015
TR 1400-1515

This course will provide an opportunity to sample an exciting body of contemporary literature, some written by authors already widely acclaimed at the time they received the Nobel Prize and some by writers suddenly catapulted into fame and international recognition. While a central focus of the course will be the literature itself, we will also look at some of the particular controversies and debates the prize has generated and at how receipt of the prize changed writers' lives and literary reputations. In the U.S., where less than 5% of the literature published each year is literature in translation, Nobel prize-winning literature is often the only modern literature Americans read in translation. We will therefore consider the question of translation and the role of the Nobel Prize in creating and promoting an international literature. We will also consider the special challenges this literature poses for its readers in speaking to both local and global audiences.