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Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

"That's a great play. But how do I talk about it?" Or, "My friends told me I'd like this story, but I don't get it." Or, "Loved the film, but what about the book?" Do you enjoy reading? Do you think you would enjoy talking about books or poems but aren't sure what to say? Perhaps you are new to literary study or perhaps you are an experienced writer looking for new ways to approach literary texts. If so, this course may give you some new ideas.

"Writing About Literature" aims:

  1. To increase students' pleasure and skill in reading literary texts and in writing and communicating about them.
  2. To introduce students to different literary forms (poetry, fiction, drama) and some tools of literary study (close reading, research, theoretical models).
  3. To allow students to get to know a single writer deeply.
  4. To encourage students to make independent decisions about their reading by exploring and reporting back on authors whose works they enjoy.

The syllabus includes an eclectic mix: William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Henry James, Michael Frayn, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Try to read each work entirely for the first class, so that you can reread sections or the whole after that. We'll explore different ways of approaching the questions readers have about each of these texts.

Along with exploring ways to think and write with pleasure about these works, we will investigate how different authors conceptualize texts and textuality. That is, what are the boundaries of a text? What does it owe to sources, readers, or editors and how much is it the product of an individual author's labor? How does the performance of a narrative work in another medium like film raise questions about its themes? How does a text make visible the writer's different acts of reading, writing, and communicating? How can readers enact these different functions more fully themselves?

This is a HASS-CI course. Like other communications-intensive courses in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, it allows students to produce 20 pages of polished writing, with one required revision. It also offers a variety of possibilities for oral expression, through presentations of written work, student-led discussion, and oral reports. The class has a low enrollment that ensures maximum attention to written and oral communication, and a writing specialist is available for consultation on drafts and revisions.

Course Expectations

Attendance and Participation

This is a discussion course where your attendance and participation in class are vital to your success and that of the group. Bring your text to class and be prepared to read aloud, debate vigorously, listen, and enjoy. If you must miss class, please notify me beforehand of the fact by phone, email, or in person; you are responsible for the information you missed.

  • You must explain all absences from class. Two will not be held against your grade, unless they are unexcused. Any absence beyond those two deducts percentage points directly from your final grade (three for the third, four for the fourth, etc): two latenesses count as one absence. Repeated absences will lead to a formal warning and may end in your being dropped from the class.
  • If you have a conflict, like a recitation, lab, sports commitment, or job that meets during this class, you should not enroll.

Written Work

Essays (10%, 15%, 15%, 15%) and Revision (15%): Essays and revisions are due at the beginning of class on the day assigned. All essays and the revision must include a brief self-evaluation, that is, a cover sheet summarizing the process of writing or revision.

Essays must be typed or word-processed, double-spaced, and adequately margined, should include a title, and need to observe the conventions of grammar and spelling. Consult the Mayfield Handbook on grammatical issues. For documentation use MLA Works Cited Style.

In-class Report

Each student will make an oral presentation at the beginning of one class during the latter part of the term, working alone or with a team, as class size permits. The report involves research in secondary materials on a literary text and will include visual or other kinds of media materials (using MetaMedia) and a print handout with bibliography.


Grading will be based on the following weighting:

Attendance and Participation 20%
Written Work 70%
In-class Report 10%


Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism attacks the freedom and integrity of thought. Especially in a class that will depend to some extent on online research, you must know what constitutes plagiarism and avoid it. The Literature Section has formulated this statement and policy for all plagiarism cases:

Plagiarism - use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work.

Consultations and Conferences

Students meet before each writing assignment with the writing specialist to go over drafts, essays, and revisions. These meetings are required, and attendance will be taken. A missed conference drops the paper grade 10% the first time; after that a paper for which the conference was missed will receive no credit. Students must sign up for these meetings well in advance and will be responsible for communicating with the writing specialist about any schedule changes. Since the writing specialist's schedule is extremely tight, it is essential to provide a week's notice of any changes and to hold to planned meeting times. Come to meetings prepared with notes, outlines, or drafts to discuss.


1 Introduction  
What Should I Do in Illyria? Shakespeare and the Comedy of Being Out of Your Mind
2 Twelfth Night  
3 Twelfth Night (cont.)  
4 Twelfth Night (cont.)  
5 Shakespeare on Film  
6 Discuss First Essay Essay 1 due
Inside Narratives: Getting to Know Herman Melville
7 Bartleby, the Scrivener  
8 Benito Cereno  
9 Benito Cereno (cont.)  
10 Melville's Poems  
11 Writing Workshop Essay 2 due
12 Billy Budd  
13 Billy Budd (cont.)  
14 Billy Budd (cont.)  
15 Billy Budd (cont.)  
16 Writing Workshop Essay 3 due
What Are We Really Scared of Here? Henry James's Ghost Story
17 The Turn of the Screw Student reports begin
18 The Turn of the Screw (cont.)  
Uncertainty in Michael Frayn's Copenhagen
19 Copenhagen  
20 Copenhagen (cont.)  
Interpreters All: Reading Lahiri
21 Interpreter of Maladies Conference week
22 Interpreter of Maladies (cont.)  
23 Interpreter of Maladies (cont.) Essay 4 due
Speaking of Collections: Melville's The Piazza Tales
24 The Piazza

Bartleby, the Scrivener

Benito Cereno

The Lightning-Rod Man
25 The Encantadas

The Bell-Tower
26 Conclusion Essay 5 due