This course will deal with detection and mystery in fiction from Sophocles to Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie and Walter Mosley. We follow the detective and the criminal (often strangely connected). That pursuit encourages us to consider various genres, including classic tragedy, the Gothic novel, the “thriller,” film noir. Moving into the dark Paris streets of Poe’s Dupin, the foggy London of Sherlock Holmes, or the pleasant Chinese tea-gardens and rough highways known to Judge Dee, readers hope to be surprised. Such a repellent matter as murder presented in close association with normal social life and desires evidently provides strong entertainment. Encountering important concepts such as “tragedy,” “realism,” or “the Gothic,” we will consider the various kinds of pleasure the “mystery story” offers us. The study of “mystery” turns us towards philosophical questions regarding good and evil, revenge and justice, guilt and the law, the appeal of the ugly and the “sublime.” We will read works by writers of some of the world’s best short stories: Hawthorne, Hoffman, Poe, Doyle, and Chesterton.
Students participate in creation of the syllabus by picking films/TV shows for team reports.
Introduction to Poetry
This course will provide an introduction to poetry as a literary art form and develop students’ skills of critical analysis and interpretation. The course will address the major poetic genres, a variety of poetic forms, and a range of literary concepts and devices. We will also spend some time thinking about the oral performance of poetry through different activities, including listening to recordings of poems and potentially attending a poetry reading. We will read a variety of material both past and contemporary, with a special emphasis on poetry from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and particularly the Romantic period. We will try to understand why the poetry on our syllabus has spoken to readers over time, and to see how it might speak to us and about us.
Victorian Literature and Its Steampunk Heirs
This class asks why modern-day writers use settings and plots from Victorian novels to work through their own ideas about technology, transportation, information, and the complex social structures of modern society. We will explore Victorian fiction that deals with rapid social and technological change, and then try to see how modern authors adapt those attitudes for use in a twenty-first century society. From the Victorian era we will read Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, and H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. From the modern era we will read Sydney Padua’s graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine and China Mieville’s incredibly weird fantasy novel, Perdido Street Station. Students can expect to spend a lot of time talking, writing and reading about trains, computers, factories, flying machines, economics, and riots; about how we construct and enforce differences among genders, humans, animals, and robots; and about how the industrial world uses fiction.
The Death and Return of God in Radical Poetry
This course will introduce students to several of the key upheavals in twentieth-century thought that rocked spiritually-inclined poets, leaving them without easy paths back to devotional art. We will be particularly focused on those British, Irish and American poets whose cutting edge, radical ideas about themselves and culture would shake apart the very syntax of their medium – language - and cause them to write in forms that seemed very strange and even disturbing to unaccustomed eyes. At the crux of our discussions will be the fate of the idea of God in the works of “postmodern” poets whose secular political projects and views of language - “the word” - would conflict at the deepest levels with their desire for belief in divinity. We will focus mostly on the work of small-press writers like Brian Coffey (Ireland), Anglo-Welsh David Jones, Wendy Mulford (England), Fanny Howe and Hank Lazer (U.S.), all of whom have recently emerged, with the help of 21st-Century hindsight, as part of an important group of poet-thinkers engaged in this crucial project of “reconstructing God.” The course will begin with gentle introductions to the problems of reading late-twentieth-century philosophy as well as to the problems of reading poetry as a literary genre. During the semester students will be required to lead class discussion twice, with partners, and write either three short papers or substitute the final one with a creative response (to be accompanied by a written “argument” and approved before start of work).
American Literature: Nation and the World
What can American literature before the 20th century teach us about the nation and the world? In this class we will explore America’s literary imaginary and its intellectual pleasures and difficulties. How did early American literature teach us to pay attention and think critically? What are the stakes of “mis-reading” for the average citizen? To answer these questions, we will move from text (close-reading) to context (broader geopolitical history) and in so doing uncover the relationship between the private crises of reading and the public crises of nationhood that has been so crucial to American literature since its inception. The writers and works we will study include: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Primary texts will be supplemented with appropriate secondary readings that help students become better writers and thinkers.
As a term in European cultural history, decadence most often indicates a late-nineteenth-century movement in which writers and artists provoked the respectable middle class with racy, sordid, overblown and/or absurdist subject matter and methods. This course explores that environment but also takes a broader view, examining alternative visions of decadence over the last two centuries and more. Our materials include fiction, poetry, drama, philosophy, visual arts, cinema and criticism. Early on, we lay conceptual groundwork with texts by Freud and Nietzsche. Well-known authors (in addition to Freud and Nietzsche) include Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Walter Pater, Virginia Woolf, and Patrick Süskind. We also read several lesser-known authors and study films by Ken Russell, Peter Greenaway and Sally Potter. Do note: some of our discussion matter is not for the prudish or faint-hearted. Bring a tolerance, even an appetite, for the grotesque. Bring, too, a readiness to think carefully about authors who deliberately challenge deeply held western attitudes concerning morality and values.
Shakespeare’s Major Tragedies
This seminar will examine the four tragedies upon which Shakespeare’s reputation most securely rests: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Our objectives will be to acquire an in-depth knowledge of Shakespeare’s four major tragedies; to become familiar with early modern English and develop an appreciation of the importance of linguistic history; to examine tragedy as a dramatic genre, as an experience, and as a cultural preoccupation; and to learn about Shakespeare’s age and his linguistic and cultural legacy. Along with our modern editions of Shakespeare, we will read Christopher Haigh’s Elizabeth I and a number of recent scholarly essays.
The Bible and English Literature
This course explores how the Bible has influenced English literature from the medieval to the modern eras. We'll read major narratives from the Bible -- the story of the creation and the fall; stories of exile and return; narratives of the Incarnation and Passion of Christ; and important parables such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son -- and consider how major authors such as William Shakespeare, John Milton, George Herbert, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, and Marilynne Robinson adapt and respond to the Bible in their creative work. You will have a chance to think about the Bible and its literary adaptations in short exercises, essays, and an optional creative project. By the end of this course, you'll have a good understanding of the many ways English literary traditions draw on and transform their biblical inheritance; you'll know the differences between quotation, allusion, and echo; you'll learn how to read poetry well; and you will develop your skills as a writer, preparing yourself for the rest of your academic career at Notre Dame.