English Honors Courses
Monsters in Medieval and Early Modern England
Lindsey Row-Heyveld, PhD
Monsters in Medieval and Early Modern England will examine evil beings, mythical beasts, and human/inhuman hybrids in early English literature. Monsters were—and are—an immensely popular literary fixation and we’ll attempt to understand why authors keep returning to them over and over again. We’ll consider: Why do we need monsters? Why do monsters proliferate especially in medieval and early modern literature? What do monsters tell us about early English understandings of humanness? What do monsters reveal about sex and gender? In particular, we’ll explore the scholarship that has grown up around medieval and early modern monster-texts and we’ll consider how and why to apply postmodern literary theory to premodern literature. Texts that we will read may include: Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, St. Erkenwald, Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Ambrose Pare’s Of Monsters and Prodigies, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, as well as ballads and pamphlets from early modern freak shows.
Crime Fiction (Fall 2012)
Jean Gregorek, PhD
According to C.K. Chesterton, "the first essential value of the detective story lies in this, that it is the earliest and only form of popular literature in which is expressed some sense of the poetry of modern life."For Michel Foucault, crime fiction in the nineteenth century represents “a new pleasure” which western middle-classes have still not outgrown.Emerging from urban industrialized centers in the eighteen-thirties and forties, the detective story has from its inception been a controversial genre, ranked above most other forms of formulaic, mass-marketed fiction but below 'real' literature.This course explores a wide range of British and U.S. crime fiction in its historical context and examines the ideological work being performed by gothic and detective thrillers, pursuing the question of why modern society is so obsessed by representations of crime.
In our consideration of crime fiction we will also take up some of the following questions:how do we define 'crime' and has this definition changed over time?
- Why have stories about criminals proved so attractive to basically law-abiding people?
- When did the figure of the detective emerge, and why?
- Why do we continue to idealize the figure of the policeman, the investigator, the sleuth?
- How do detective fictions work to reinforce our faith in modern science, technology, law, justice, legitimate authority?
- Why has this (many have argued) quintessentially masculine form so often been authored by women?
- Why are women the most frequent and representative victims? How have women writers appropriated detective genres for their own uses?
- What happens to the genre when the detective is a woman?
- What is the relationship between cultural homophobia and gothic fiction?
- And are detective stories and thrillers still serving the same functions today, still appealing to the same cultural anxieties or concerns that they appealed to in the nineteenth century?
The syllabus will cover the following topics in roughly this order:
- Late eighteenth-century criminal tales
- Early Detectives
- The Gothic Tradition
- Sherlock Holmes and The Golden Age of Detective Fiction
- The Hard-Boiled Tradition
- Film Noir
- The Female Detective
- Contemporary Revisions
Innocents Abroad: Americans in London (Spring 2012)
Roger Stephenson, PhD
London is still very much THE primary destination for American travelers. We’re comfortable with our common language and what is—in some critical aspects—our common heritage. But we also see London (and Great Britain generally) as a place of history and culture in some ways very much richer, and more intimidating, than our own. From our earliest history, many important American writers have felt the same.For them, too, England—and especially London and its environs—was a place where the writer and his/her craft were more often welcomed and appreciated than at home. England offered a very robust publishing community as well. For these reasons, many of our most influential writers have spent part of the careers “across the pond.”
This course will follow some of these “Pilgrims Returned” as they repair to England. We’ll examine their responses to the more dense cultural and artistic environment of the Motherland. And we’ll explore how this environment impacted their artistic development in terms of subjects, visions, and modes of expression.
We’ll look at works by Franklin, Irving, J.R. Lowell, Hawthorne, B.Taylor, James, Fredric, Crane, Frost, Eliot, H.D., and Amy Lowell. Our concern will be with fiction and poetry primarily, though we’ll look to journals (“notebooks”) and letters, too.
Early Modern Women Writers (Fall 2012)
Rachel Greenberg, PhD
At one point in A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf imagines Shakespeare having a sister, and wonders what that sister might have accomplished had she possessed the freedom and privileges that belonged to her brother and to men in general in the sixteenth-century.In particular, Woolf wonders and laments what Shakespeare’s sister might have accomplished as an author, a query that reflects women’s disadvantages in the early modern period, but that creates the false impression that there were no women writers at the time.In fact, there were numerous women authors in this period, though they wrote under different conditions and for very different reasons than Shakespeare and other male writers of the day.This course will provide an introduction to a range of women writers of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, such as Anne Askew, Aemilia Lanyer, Elizabeth Cary, Margaret Cavendish, and will explore the conditions of women’s writing and the gender politics that accompanied them.
Literature, Illness and Disease (Spring 2011)
Jane Fisher, PhD
How do we both as individuals and as a culture define health and its opposite illness?If we define health in terms of reason, power, and perception, following the French philosopher Michel Foucault, then illness and disease become stigmatized, the province of the unreasonable and the powerless.Although none of us would voluntarily assume these lesser, socially marginalized roles, at some point in our lives all of us will certainly face illness and mortality.Hence, our individual and cultural powers of denial towards illness and disease are often quite intense, because we are denying what is both undesirable and inevitable.
What happens when our collective denial of disease can no longer continue and we must face our own weaknesses?This is a question that writers have found painful but fruitful, particularly in the twentieth century.In this course, we will survey a range of different literary representations of illness and disease across the major literary genres of fiction, poetry, drama and essays.We will particularly focus on the different roles central to understanding the power relationships inherent in illness and disease:the patient, the doctor, and the nurse/caretaker.We will also consider the immediate impact of illness on an individual and his or her family but also the much larger impact of disease on an entire community or society.
Course requirements will include a series of portfolio essays submitted electronically using Angel, a series of seminar reports on the course readings, an eight- to ten-page research project on a text of your choice, and a take home final exam that will draw on both the portfolio essays and the seminar reports.In your writing, I’ll ask you to respond analytically but also expressively and creatively, perhaps finding new perspectives on these issues than you had imagined previously.
Foucault, Birth of the Clinic (excerpts)
Scarry, The Body in Pain (excerpts)
Emily Dickinson, “Pain” (poem)
Sontag, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS as Metaphor (excerpts)
Camus, The Plague
William Carlos Williams, The Doctor Stories
Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill” (essay)
Katherine Anne Porter, Pale Horse, Pale Rider
Ellen Bryant Voight, Kyrie (poetry)
Sontag, “The Way We Live Now” (short story)
Lorrie Moore, “People Like That are the Only People Here” (short story)
Angels in America, Tony Kushner, film (excerpt)
Possible Course Texts
Stories from The Newgate Calendar
The Portable Poe, in particular, "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), "The Purloined Letter" (1844), “Berenice” (1835), “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), “The Tell-Tale Heart,” (1843)” “The Black Cat” (1843); selected essays
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) Broadview Edition
Fyodor Dostoevski, Crime and Punishment (1866) Norton Critical Edition
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Major Sherlock Holmes stories (1890's) St Martin’s Critical Edition
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Marie Belloc Lowndes, The Lodger (1913)
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night (1935)
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1929)
Hakan Nesser, Woman With Birthmark (2009)
Liza Cody, “Lucky Dip” (2003)
John Cawelti, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance:Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture
Essays by Raymond Chandler, George Orwell, W.H. Auden and others
Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity
Prime Suspect episode
Robert Altman, Gosford Park
Claude Chabrol, La Ceremonie
Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca, Rope, Frenzy, Rear Window
Peter Jackson, Heavenly Creatures
Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde
Terence Malick, Badlands