2016-17 Teaching

Donkey Ears


Course descriptions and book lists are now settled for Fall 2016 courses and I have posted updated drafts of their syllabi.

Books have now also been confirmed and ordered for my Winter 2017 courses.


Fall 2016

English 3000, Close Reading MWF 10:30-11:30

English 3000 Syllabus (Fall 2016) (Updated August 25, 2016)

I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

            —Virginia Woolf

English 3000 is a class about loving reading enough to do it as well as we can. Lingering over the details of our poems and novels, we will consider the literary, historical, political, and ethical implications of the authors’ choices, from the largest (which topic?) to the smallest (which punctuation?). Our most persistent question will be what it means for an author to write about this subject in this particular way—what gets done, and (sometimes more importantly) what does not? What does one literary form or device make happen that another would not? How does Keats use poetic devices to evoke the melancholy music of a nightingale, or John Donne use rhythm to defy death? What is extraordinary about the language of James Joyce’s “Araby”? How can we learn to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s prose better by studying Tennyson’s dramatic monologue “Ulysses”? What happens to readers when Ishiguro uses first-person narration to tell his story of a man who devotes his life to serving a Nazi apologist? How does this narrative choice differ from Eliot’s use of an intrusive narrator in Middlemarch—or from Poe’s first-person narration in “The Black Cat”? What other choices might these writers have made, and with what consequences? These and other important critical and ethical questions can be answered only after close and well-informed reading, and the knowledge and strategies that enable such reading—of these and any literary texts—are the focus of this course.

Plans for the 2016 version of this class (including the reading list) are still very tentative; check back closer to the beginning of term for updated information.

Book List for English 3000 (Fall 2016)

  • Elisabeth Howe, ed. Close Reading: An Introduction to Literature (Longman/Pearson)
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (Vintage)

English 4604, The Victorian ‘Woman Question’ MWF 1:30-2:30

English 4604 Syllabus (Fall 2016)

One of the liveliest of the many intellectual and social debates that raged in the 19th century was that over what the Victorians called the “Woman Question.” This rather sweeping phrase actually referred to a complex array of questions: What kinds of characters, behaviours, values, or roles were “natural” for women? What (if any) reforms of women’s social, legal, political, or marital status were desirable, and why (or why not)? What moral standards could or should be applied to women? How ought their sexuality to be understood and depicted? What were the implications for masculinity and for male rights and prerogatives if women’s roles changed? In this course we will focus on a range of readings across genres that set and answer these questions in interesting, diverse, and often provocative ways, focusing especially on education, work, marriage, art, and “fallen” women. Although we will discuss historical, political, and social contexts for our readings, our approach will be primarily literary, and discussions and assignments will focus on all the particularities of our texts—their forms, plots, style, and language—as much as on the various ways they interrogate or reproduce conventional Victorian ideas about gender identities and roles and about marriage.

Plans for the 2016 version of this class (including the reading list) are still very tentative; check here for updates closer to the start of term.

 Book List for English 4604 (Fall 2016):

  • John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (Broadview)
  • Susan Hamilton, ed., Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors: Nineteenth-Century Writing by Women on Women (Broadview)
  • Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market” and Other Poems (Dover Thrift Editions)
  • George Gissing, The Odd Women (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • Course Packet of stories and poems (available in September)

Winter 2017

English 1050, Pulp Fiction (Writing Requirement) MWF 2:30-3:30

The term “pulp fiction” originally referred to cheap paperback books aimed at the mass market rather than the cultural elite. Some of the original “pulps” were reprinted literary classics, but the term “pulp fiction” became most familiarly associated with lurid, sensational stories. Today “pulp fiction” is sometimes used as a general label for popular genres like mysteries, westerns, or romances, but the early connotations of cheap thrills and low quality lingers, and in some circles genre fiction gets as little critical respect as the “pulps” once did. In this class, we will read a selection of novels and short stories from a range of genres associated with the “pulp” tradition, considering their historical contexts, their formal features, and the vexed question of their literary merit – all while enjoying their often spectacular story-telling and entertainment value.

Plans for this class (including the reading list) are still very tentative; check here for updates closer to the start of term.

Reading List for English 1050 (Winter 2017):

  • Coursepack of short readings (Details TBA. Probably including Elmore Leonard, “Three-Ten to Yuma”; Dorothy Johnson, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance”; Raymond Chandler, “Trouble Is My Business”; Ross MacDonald, “Guilt-Edged Blonde”; Sara Paretsky, “Dealer’s Choice”)
  • Elmore Leonard, Valdez is Coming*
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon*
  • Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels*

*These three novels are now definitely on our reading list; I have ordered them through the Dalhousie University Bookstore, but you can also look for them in other bookstores or online.

English 3032, The 19th-Century British Novel from Dickens to Hardy MWF 11:30-12:30

In this class we will study British novels from the second half of the nineteenth century. Drawing on the now-established traditions of the novel, authors during this period found ways to revise or challenge its conventions by experimenting with fictional forms, techniques, and subjects. The issues of social and personal reform that motivated earlier Victorian fiction continued to inspire great, moving and innovative writing by novelists such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, all of whom are represented on the reading list, and a couple of whom will make us laugh almost as hard as the other will make us cry. But we will also look at an example of the scandalous genre known as ‘sensation fiction’—Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret—and we will treat ourselves to Elizabeth Gaskell’s delightful little novel Cranford, of which one contemporary reviewer said: “This is not a book to be described or criticised other than by a couple of words of advice–Read it.” And so we will! One unifying theme of our readings this term will be women’s roles–and, especially, women who don’t conform, and one way or another pay a price for this. But we will consider a wide range of themes, and also pay close attention to the formal and aesthetic properties of our novels.

Some of our readings will be long; you should be prepared to put in enough time to read them attentively. But they will also be delightful, so your effort will be heartily repaid in pleasure. Regular, well-informed, and enthusiastic class participation will be encouraged; regular, well-informed, and enthusiastic writing will be required.

Plans for the 2017 version of this class (including the reading list) are still very tentative; check here for updates closer to the start of term.

Book List for English 3032 (Winter 2017) 

Please note: I highly recommend that you buy the assigned editions, as with such long books it helps a lot to be able to get (literally) on the same page at the same time.

  • Eliot, Adam Bede (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • Dickens, Bleak House (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • Gaskell, Cranford (Broadview Press)
  • Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (Oxford World’s Classics)
  • Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Oxford World’s Classics)