Descriptions of My Courses offered at Wesleyan and elsewhere since 2002

2005

HUMS 645 George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and the Making of the Modern

Spring 2005
There is perhaps no better pairing of English novelists to demonstrate the opposite approaches that define key boundaries of modern fiction than George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.
Read more...
HUMS 645	George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and the Making of the ModernDespite similar backgrounds in rural England and a shared skepticism of the absolutes of Victorian beliefs, each revolutionized the novel as a serious instrument of truth telling from contrary assumptions. George Eliot extended the novel’s realism, replacing fiction’s idealizations and falsifications with a clarity that produced what she called a natural history of our social classes, dramatizing the complex relationship among environment, the individual, and society. For Hardy, as he declared, realism was not art, and his novels, suffused with the extraordinary, attempt to find truth through intensification and universal significance beneath the surface of experience. Both writers draw remarkably similar conclusions from their different approaches to life and art, exploring the contours of our modern world in some of the greatest novels of the 19th century.

This course will present both writers in the context of their biographies, culture, and literary history. We will concentrate, in the case of Eliot, on Middlemarch, her masterpiece, which Virginia Woolf called one of the few English novels for adult people. For Hardy, we will consider his greatest achievements as a novelist: The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. Assignments will include passage analysis, facilitation of group discussion, and a critical examination of the writers’ ideas and techniques.

HUMS 639 A Terrible Beauty: How Irish Writers Transformed Modern Literature and Changed the Way We See the World

Summer 2005
This class will attempt to demonstrate how modern literature has been profoundly shaped by Irish writers.
Read more...
HUMS 639	A Terrible Beauty: How Irish Writers Transformed Modern Literature and Changed the Way We See the WorldWilliam Butler Yeats, according to T.S. Eliot and many others, is regarded as the 20th century’s greatest poet. James Joyce transformed the modern short story, the realistic novel of education and development, and produced the consensus choice for the greatest modern novel in Ulysses. Modern drama is dominated by Irish playwrights, including Yeats, Shaw, Synge, O’Casey, Beckett, and Friel. Seamus Heaney is widely considered the world’s greatest living poet. This course will explore the remarkable achievement of these writers and their impact on modern literature, while trying to answer why such a small country could produce so many towering literary figures who rewrote the rules of poetry, fiction, and drama.

We will begin with the creation of the Abbey Theatre, the rise of Irish Nationalism, and the controversy surrounding the productions of Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Shaw’s The Showing-up of Blanco Posnet, and O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. We will go on to consider Yeats’s poetic development from a self-proclaimed Last Romantic to one of the defining literary modernists who attempted to shape the violence and chaos of Irish life into lasting significance. Through reading Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and selections from Ulysses we will consider how Joyce changed the methods and expectations of modern fiction forever. We will then study how Joyce’s protege, Samuel Beckett, reversed his mentor’s encyclopedic method, refining fiction and drama down to an existential core. The class will conclude with a consideration of two of Ireland’s greatest living writers, Brian Friel and Seamus Heaney, to show how they continue to respond to and modify the extraordinary Irish literary heritage.

The class will provide an extensive exploration of Irish culture and literature while establishing a fundamental understanding of how modern literature should be approach, understood, and enjoyed. Students will be asked to investigate and report on a significant aspect of Irish cultural, historical, or social life, write a critical response to one of the texts on our reading list, and read and evaluate the work of an active Irish poet, fiction writer, or dramatist.

HUMS 644 Dickens and London

Fall 2005
Charles Dickens has been called the greatest dramatic writer that the English had had since Shakespeare. He is also one of the first great urban novelists who dramatized the impact of modern city life on the individual and the culture of the 19th century.
Read more...
HUMS 644	Dickens and LondonDickens’s great passion and obsession was London, the city of strange contrasts, of great wealth and poverty, exhilarating in its multiplicity and bewildering in its labyrinthine confinement. In his novels, Dickens celebrated the attractions of London while hauntingly portraying its horrors as well.

We will examine other 19th-century responses to London by the journalist and proto-sociologist Henry Mayhew, author of the classic study, London Labour and the London Poor, and in the popular literature of terror and suspense. We will analyze Dickens’s fiction from the vantage point of his response to modern urban life. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Bleak House, and Great Expectations will be read in their entirety, while relevant sections from other novels and stories will be examined. Film screenings will supplement the readings.

Students will have an opportunity to research aspects of London life during the period and complete a final critical or creative project on a topic of their choice.