The Literature Concentration builds on Departmental strengths in American, British, and World literatures. It is designed for students who wish to focus fully on the study of literature and literary theory.
In addition to the common requirements for the English major, students pursuing the Literature Concentration take the following courses:
Lower or upper division elective
- Shakespeare I or II (E342 or E343)
- Capstone Course (E460, E463, E465, or E470)
- Additional semester of British Literature Survey (E276 or E277)
Upper division Literature Electives:
- Historical Approaches: Literatures of the British Isles before 1830, or American or European Literatures before 1900 (see Category 1 course list on the Literature check sheet)
- Historical Approaches: Literatures of the British Isles after 1830, or American or European literatures after 1900 (see Category 2 course list)
- Breakthroughs: Ideological, Racial, Cultural, Gendered (see Category 3 course list)
- Genre Approaches (see Category 4 course list)
- Open Electives: Two upper division courses in Literature, Writing, or Language
Recent Topics Courses in Literature
E370 American Literature in Cultural Contexts: Literary Naturalism and the Progressive Era
Labor exploitation and class warfare; women unable to vote; U.S. imperialist aggression abroad; discrimination based upon ethnic identities; homophobia and sexism; racial prejudice and pervasive lynchings; inhumane treatment of animals: these and other injustices were rampant in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. The purpose of this course is to explore writers and reformers advocating against these kinds of problems. We will analyze texts associated with literary naturalism and the “muckrakers” of the Progressive Era, including Frank Norris, Upton Sinclair, Stephen Crane, Charles Chesnutt, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. We will also explore contemporaries of these writers, such as Emile Zola, Jacob Riis, Theodore Roosevelt, W. E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, and Thorstein Veblen. Our interdisciplinary approach to texts by these writers will draw upon debates from the academic fields of American literary and cultural studies, animality studies, and critical theory. We will practice developing critical arguments while focusing on the construction of race, class, gender, and sexuality at the turn of the century, along with new ways of thinking about what it means to be human and what it means to act humanely.
E 465 Topics in Literature and Language: The Literary Essay
Literary essays come with many labels: literary nonfiction, creative nonfiction, classic nonfiction, new journalism, the fourth genre, the literature of reality, blogs. They fall into lots of categories: personal, familiar, topical, activist. They range from short, witty and instructive apothegms to book-length treatises, from exploration to revelation, from reflection to polemic. Readers and scholars argue about what holds this baggy genre together, and perhaps the only point of agreement is that the essay in its many guises is about telling true stories. Essayist Edward Hoagland went so far as to call it —a greased pig.? We’ll spend 15 weeks sampling essays that draw us back to the 16th-century and forward to the 21st. Along the way, we’ll ask a lot of questions, among them these: Does the essay have a recognizable form? What distinguishes nonfiction from fiction? What kinds of cultural work do essays do? To what extent do essays or an essay writing tradition create individual identities, communities, even nations? What ethical constraints do (or should) essayists observe?
E 465 Topics in Literature and Language: Renaissance Popular Culture
This course will focus on English popular literature and culture of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. At the same time as courtly poetry was circulating in manuscript among a coterie of gentlemen and the university wits were displaying their rhetorical prowess in imitation of classical authors, several authors emerged in London who appealed to a broader audience. We will investigate how the population explosion in London and the burgeoning print market in the sixteenth century led to an unprecedented proliferation of texts consumed by an audience that included merchants, apprentices, women, and the illiterate. For the purposes of this course, “popular literature” is defined as texts that were accessible, widely read (or seen, in the case of drama) and—usually—printed multiple times. Under this umbrella falls a wide range of texts: broadside ballads, conduct manuals, prose romances, satirical pamphlets, sermons, and, of course, plays. In order to gain a more keen understanding of the proliferation of printed materials, it is important to complicate the notion of the properly “literary” text. For instance, in this class we will look at several plays, including Shakespearean drama. But we will also look at printed texts that, as evidenced by their multiple printings, captivated a wide audience and participated in shaping English culture. Central to this course will be a study of texts that take up the issue of moral depravity in England, a favorite subject across genres. From pamphlets debating the social iniquities of cross-dressing, to the ballads that take up husband murder, to the satires outlining sartorial ostentation, to the polemics condemning the dangers of playgoing, the early modern period was one intensely concerned with moral corruption and decay.
E 470 Individual Author: The Brontës
The myths surrounding the Brontë sisters (Emily, Charlotte, and Anne) as isolated geniuses living in rural Yorkshire are some of the most entrenched and potent stories we have about famous literary figures. One of the central questions of this “major family” course will be why these women and their works have had such a powerful hold on our literary and cultural imaginations. The primary texts for this seminar will include the Brontës” novels, as well as the poetry of Emily: Wuthering Heights, The Professor, Shirley, Jane Eyre, Villette, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Students will also read postcolonial revisitings of Jane Eyre: Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy. A film version of Wuthering Heights will complete our primary texts. The course will also explore the reviews that promoted the idea of the Brontes as isolated geniuses, distant from worldly concerns, as well as contemporary scholarship that explodes that myth by setting their work in vivid relation to social and political issues of the day. Finally, we will look at the novels as a “sororal debate,” as a means by which they each commented on their siblings’ texts. Students will be expected to take part in lively discussion and will complete 2 research papers of ten pages, both of which draw on secondary materials.
E470 Individual Author: August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks
“Once upon a time you weren’t there.” That, says Suzan-Lori Parks, is the official history given to African Americans. Her work, and that of many African American playwrights, undermines this “history-from-the-top” version of reality. The body of modern and contemporary drama can be seen as a long and wide-ranging negotiation with realism, a style particularly fraught for African Americans. The appropriateness of realism for African American literature has been debated at least since the Harlem Renaissance. Bound up in this debate is the question of what to do with history and with the cultural identities constructed by and in resistance to it. If our current vision of cultural and historical realities constrains our ability even to imagine other possible realities, how should art best intervene to “re-member” history and reality? Two major contemporary African American playwrights, August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks, represent distinctive reactions to the realism debate. Wilson has revived realism through infusions of Magic Realism, whereas Suzan-Lori Parks has rejected realism altogether in favor of more postmodern modes of fragmentation, repetition and revision, jamming and scatting, aggressive appropriation, and recontextualization of historical simulacra. Through a study of the plays and critical receptions of August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks, this course will present an overview of contemporary African American approaches to realism and to history.
E470 Individual Author: Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) is most known today for mastering satirical city comedies, but he is the only Renaissance playwright other than Shakespeare who created acknowledged “masterpieces” of both comedy and tragedy. Middleton has been admired for his representations of the intertwined pursuits of sex, money, power, and God. His work explores the social crises of London commercial culture with an unflinching eye. Middleton’s extensive work as a collaborator will encourage us to examine authorship as a category; to consider recent theories of textuality and editorial method; and to explore the histories of reception and canon-formation that have kept Middleton in the shadows of the bard since the eighteenth century (until the late twentieth century). We will read 6-7 plays in a variety of genres and study a sampling of Middleton’s non-dramatic work (pageants, pamphlets, epigrams, and Biblical and political commentaries). This is a capstone course for English majors, so students will engage in depth with recent criticism and theory.