Biography/Autobiography: One’s Life Story
In the course of the semester, we will seek to understand the uniqueness of particular historical persons through an analysis of their stories as created either by themselves or others. We will also be interested in what can be learned about that person in cultural and historical context.
Attendance is expected at each class.
The students in the course are expected to contribute to the seminar discussions and to write papers on each assignment. All regular papers are to be two to three pages. The final paper is to be five to seven pages. It will provide an opportunity to tell one’s own story in light of the work of the semester.
Frankenstein and Friends: The Monstrous in Literature and Film
This course will explore the cultural construction of monsters and the monstrous through the enduring figure and myth of Mary Shelley’s Creature, popularly known as Frankenstein. We will begin by reading Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818; 1831) alongside sources for her lonely and rebellious monster in Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, and John Milton, Paradise Lost (selections). We will then turn to Frankenstein’s Victorian analogues in Bram
Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). We will also examine the Frankenstein monster on film, including clips from or screenings of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and campy Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Mel Brooks’ satiric comedy Young Frankenstein (1974), the rewriting of Shelley (and Milton) in Ridley Scott’s dystopian thriller Blade Runner (1982; final cut, 1994), and Tim Burton’s gothic
fantasy Edward Scissorhands (1990), as well as his neo-noir horror film, the animated Frankenweenie (2012). We will end with a modern speculative fiction rewriting of Frankenstein in Margaret Atwood’s dystopic Oryx and Crake (2003).
As we discuss and analyze Mary Shelley’s monstrous myth, including its sources and its fictional and cinematic legacy, we will focus on such questions as: What is a monster? What is the relationship between the human and the monstrous? How do individuals and societies define themselves through / against the monstrous? What do monsters tell us about ourselves and our deepest values? What functions do monsters serve in literature, film, and society? What makes the Frankenstein monster so fascinating, adaptable, and durable?
This course is discussion-based and writing-intensive. Students will write short reading responses and four analytic papers. There will be an opportunity for students to write about films, as well as literary texts.
On the Road: Literature of the Quest
The title of Jack Kerouac’s experimental Beat Era novel, On the Road, represents a modern variation on one of the most powerful trajectories in the great traditions of literary history. Narratives of pilgrimage and quest permeate these traditions, expressing fundamental, abiding human aspirations throughout time toward various types of great ideals: personal, national, moral, spiritual, even
counter-cultural or underground. Yet this compelling quest motif also addresses the particular cultural and political priorities of specific societies and historical contexts. This seminar will explore the many different cultural inflections of quest narratives and the ways in which they reveal profound tensions between the persisting human search for the ideal and the ever changing historical forces at work in specific social communities. Our own journey of exploration will begin with Biblical and Classical sources, Homer in particular, followed by medieval quest romance. We will then proceed to forms of ironic and radically modernized quest narratives in selected works from the eighteenth century to the present by Swift, Voltaire, Byron, MW Shelley, Tennyson, Kerouac, McCarthy, and selected film makers, including the Monty Python troupe.
This course will entail detailed analysis of the structure of literary texts, which includes learning the analytical tools necessary for the study of narrative and poetic structure as well as the various functions of genre, rhetorical motifs, and such literary modes as allegory, symbolism, and irony. Close readings of literary structure will also be grounded within the study of historical and political
contexts. As this course will include many texts representing the collisions of different, often competing races and cultures, students will be encouraged to apply such representations of “contact zone” experience to the geopolitics of contemporary culture. Critical writing and speaking also constitutes an important component of this course, with students receiving considerable training in speaking and writing about literary texts.
"The British Novel"
The uncommonly generic title of this course reflects the course's very simple but
still-significant ambition: to give students an understanding of the varied modes and motivations on view in the history of the British novel over three centuries. Are novels generally about individuals and individualism or are they about society and community? Why do some novels seem to invite psychological critical approaches--say, for example, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--while others seem to ask for a socio-economic lens, such as Caleb Williams (written, as it happens, by Mary Shelley's own father!)? How does the status of the novel change over time in terms of the hierarchies of prestige in the worlds of literature and the arts? For example, if you'd shown up at Oxford University in 1850 announcing that you want to study Charles Dickens, you'd have been laughed out of the room. (Sort of akin to how some people today would say it's a dumb idea to write your dissertation on the television show Big Bang Theory.) Also, a simpler ambition for the course must be admitted: we're just going to read as many fun novels as time allows. Possible texts include Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Tobias Smollett's Adventures of Roderick Random, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (or Villette), Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. (It won't be all of those.) Regarding coursework, and in keeping with the mandate of University Literature Seminars, there will be regular writing assignments aimed at cultivating critical-reading skills.
Shakespeare’s Major Tragedies 2005
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.
Literary Visions and Revisions
“[T]here will be time,” writes T. S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a toast and tea.” While this seminar doesn’t promise toast and tea (although that’s negotiable), it does promise a feast of literary works well worth digesting, specifically ones about the many “visions and revisions” involved in literature itself. Through the study of poetry, plays, and a novel from across five centuries, we will become acquainted with literature as a mode of expression that involves artful negotiation with one’s cultural and historical heritage, notably through adaptation, echoing, imitation, and allusion. We will also explore the ways in which literature is often on some level about its own visionary and revisionary processes. The seminar will feature regular classes in which we analyze, discuss, and practice the critical visions and revisions involved in thinking and writing about literature at the university level. Writers figuring prominently in the syllabus include Shakespeare, Stoppard, and Woolf.