In this course, we will read, discuss, and write about texts that explore the intersection of sexuality, gender, and identity. What possibilities—and what limitations—do these authors imagine for themselves or their characters by writing about this often fraught relationship? Can marginalized peoples create new, better worlds for themselves by asserting their identities and resisting sexual and gender norms? These questions will take us to the red muck of Prince Edward Island, across to the gutters of Paris, back to a funeral home in Pennsylvania, up to the AIDS-ridden streets of New York City, and beyond. These questions will take us back in time as far as Shakespeare’s England, through Emily Dickinson’s Civil War Era America, and into today. Through engagement with many forms of literature—fiction, comics, drama, poetry, memoir—students will explore these questions and more, all while learning and applying techniques of close reading and critical writing.
Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Tony Kushner, Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches
Janet Mock, Redefining Realness
William Shakespeare, “A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted”
Emily Dickinson, “Wild nights - Wild nights!”
Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”
Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”
Thom Gunn, “The Man with Night Sweats”
In this course, we will explore the changing nature of fairy tale narratives through the study of 20th and 21st century variations on well-known tales from the European tradition of literary fairy tales. We will examine how writers have reimagined fairy tales to respond to shifting cultural
and ideological conditions. Students will read variants of Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast by Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Wilfred Owen, Francesca Lia Block, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Emma Donoghue, and Marissa Meyer with attention to both form and content. Some of the tales we will study in this course are explicitly written for an adult audience. We will discuss the use of fairy tale narratives in both children’s literature and adult texts while examining the roles of the teller and the audience in the
context of social, historical, material, and gendered revisions of folk and fairy tales. This course will emphasize fundamental skills: instruction on university-level essay writing;close reading of literary texts; and an introduction to key critical and technical concepts in the study of literature.
Folk and Fairy Tales 4th ed. (2008). Edited by Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. Broadview Press. (Includes Critical Articles and Access to Additional Online Readings)
Donoghue, Emma. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (1997)
Meyer, Marissa. Cinder (2012) (Book One of The Lunar Chronicles Series)
Mansfield, Katherine. “The Little Governess.” (1915)
Carter, Angela. “The Bloody Chamber.” (1979)
Atwood, Margaret. “Bluebeard’s Egg.” (1983)
Hopkinson, Nalo. “The Glass Bottle Trick.” (2001)
Stories about oneself—from confessional poetry to letter-writing to autobiography—commonly appear in English literature. But what happens when an author or narrator takes on the task of relaying someone else’s story? When a protagonist cannot speak for him or herself, what factual, political, and ethical issues arise in the second-hand narrative? This course examines the messy knot of storytelling that occurs in framed narratives, the biography of a deceased person, and even a story of the lives of animals. Through close reading of texts and formal and informal writing, students will develop fundamental skills in literary study.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
Barbara Gowdy, The White Bone (1999)
Thomas King, The Truth about Stories (2003)
Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
*Additional required texts will be available online
Literature can entertain, provoke, inform and subvert. But in this course we will focus on texts that critique political and cultural norms, asking readers to re-evaluate their world views. The reading list extends from the 17th century to present, so students will consider the literary and thematic qualities that make texts relevant today. How does Dickens’s theme of social responsibility apply to Canada in the 2000s? What can today’s feminists learn from “The Yellow Wallpaper?” What does The Tempest tell us about North American race relations? We will then turn to contemporary writers such as Hill, Vonnegut and Smith, who explore issues like immigration, military conflict and race – issues that regularly surface on news sites and current affairs programs. Through analysis, discussion and critical writing, students will explore the narrative elements of these texts, and then reflect on the ways literature helps readers consider the need for societal change. The course will include several writing workshops, in order to help students write effectively at the university level.
Shakespeare, The Tempest
Charles Dickens, “A Visit to Newgate”
Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Lawrence Hill, The Illegal
Joshua Ferris, “The Pilot”
Margaret Atwood, “The Stone Mattress”
Zadie Smith, “The Embassy of Cambodia”
Neil Gaiman, “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”
Thomas King writes: “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” During this course we will immerse ourselves deeply in the stories of a short list of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry writers. These texts are steeped in heartbreak, rage, joy, and hilarity, and explore their topics from a variety of viewpoints. How and why are stories told? What power do they hold? We will interrogate what it means for a story to be “true” and which voices are allowed to tell their stories. The course texts will lead us into discussions about class, race, gender, and other important considerations of literature and the world around us. By participating in this class, students will learn to develop skills in close-reading and essay writing, as well as critical and creative thinking. We will all become better listeners and readers of the stories that surround us.
Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories (storytelling, multi-genre)
Brecken Hancock’s Broom Broom (poems)
Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods (fiction)
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (non-fiction)
Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (non-fiction)
**We will also be reading a selection of short fiction and poems by various writers which will be available for students to access online.
The word “fan” has its origins in the word fanatic, originally used to describe “a person filled with excessive enthusiasm for an extreme political or religious cause” (OED). This course will investigate the excess of loyalty and cult-like devotion that lingers within fandom culture in literature. Beginning with popular works of the 19th century, through to contemporary works, fans hold authors personally accountable for both the creation, and treatment, of their characters, for better and for worse. This course explores what builds, captures, and then sustains the interest the avid readerships, beyond interest in their own times in the canon of popular imagination.
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (stories to be selected from readsherlock.com)
Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables\
Frank Miller’s Dark Knight,
The Rocky Horror Picture Show, screenplay by Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien (available online)
Poetry selection, tbd
What makes a good anecdote or a sincere apology? How do we know when a fictional character is lying to us? This course will begin with some of the simplest and most common narratives that surround us—the personal anecdote and the apology—and end with the complex kind of fictional books and movies known as “unreliable narration.” Students will learn how certain ways of reading and interpreting can enhance their understanding of the stories that make up our lives and challenge our intellects. Readings will include literary texts like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif,” and Emma Donaghue’s Room as well as films like The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects.
ENGL 201 Lecture 09: "Love and Romance in Literature"
It’s a good bet that ideas about love and romance vary among individuals. Is it also the case that concepts of love and romance vary over time and across social groups? Could it be that what is possible, permissible, and desirable in love stories is a function of the social positions of writers and readers? What can romance stories tell us about our culture(s), including differences across cultures and the power of our social environment to shape some of our most fundamental desires and beliefs?
In this course we will review some of the models of love that have existed historically. We will be particularly concerned with contemporary notions of romantic love that sustain the romance novel, arguably the most popular form of North American literature today. Our readings will begin with a pioneering modern romance, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. From there we will examine stories that challenge the romance paradigm. After Brontë, possible readings include Kate Chopin, The Awakening, Abraham Cahan, “The Imported Bridegroom,” Nancy Garden, Annie on My Mind, and Xiaolu Guo, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.
How does literature depict physical and cognitive illness and disability? How do the narratives we tell and the types of language we use to describe illness affect our experiences of it? In this course, we will study works of literature centered around current issues in medicine, disability studies, and bioethics. We will tackle topics ranging from organ donation to autism. Authors and theorists may include Mark Haddon, Kazuo Ishiguro, Oliver Sacks, and Susan Sontag.
What are novels good for? Conventional wisdom says that when we read novels, we allocate scarce resources of time to a leisure activity. But economic calculations of productivity or escapism are too reductive. Novels expand our narrow views of the world by making us empathize with characters who are overtly unlike us. The novels we read in this course will unsettle our conventional thinking. Negotiating between human desires and social mores, their characters transport us from our circumstances into rapturous loves, geopolitical crises, sun-dappled landscapes, and sterile sanitoriums.
E. M. Forster, A Room with a View (1908)
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (1988)
Have you ever told a joke about a serious subject or issue? Have you ever laughed at a joke, or funny statement about a serious subject? Do you like comedians who make you laugh to make you think? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you have participated in the ancient device of satire and there is a very good chance that you will laugh, and think, in this class. This course will provide instruction in critical reading and writing through the exploration of stories that use humour to generate critical commentaries on various aspects of society. How can humour be used to generate meaningful statements about society? What cultural relevance does satire hold, if any, in the context of the twenty-first century? What is the relationship between satire and other forms of political commentary? Is satire an effective form of political protest? How does satire facilitate the critical engagement with uncomfortable, perhaps even unspeakable, subjects of gender, race, politics, class, and other significant aspects of life and society? Our analytical engagement with these stories - reading, thinking, discussion, research and writing - will produce an exploration of these and other questions, challenges, issues and implications, generated through and connected to these examples of literary satire.
Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five
Douglas Adams. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Zadie Smith. White Teeth
Janet E. Gardner Reading and Writing About Literature
ENGL 201 Lecture 15: "The Other Side: Literary Representations of Otherness"
Does it ever seem to you that the world we inhabit is increasingly being described in terms of them and us? Have you ever noticed that this basic construction of them and us, self and other, appears in a wide variety of cultural locations from television shows, movies, novels and stories of all kinds, to news and magazine articles, political rhetoric and policies, advertising, police activities, and fundamentalist and extremist positions of all stripes. In all of these areas it appears that the concept and construction of the other and otherness are alive and well. On the other hand, have you ever felt, in some significant way, that you don’t fit your society’s definition of normal, that you are seen as less, strange, unfamiliar, or a threat because of your presumed difference from some perceived definition of value in terms of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, class, religion, language, appearance, beliefs, education, physical status (abilities and disabilities), or just the way you dress or cut your hair? If you have, then you have known, more or less, the experience of otherness. Where did this structure of self and other begin? Is this fundamental division an essential and inescapable aspect of human identity? Who or what exactly gets to be an ‘other’? What are the possibilities, problematics, or benefits of the attempt to transcend or overcome this way of thinking? This course will explore several different literary approaches to the question of otherness, to see how the concept has functioned in different historical periods, how it has evolved over time, and how it continues to express itself in our contemporary social and historical context. To aid this exploration, the course will have a primary focus on the critical reading of, and critical writing about literature that features a range of commentaries on the experience of others and experiences of otherness.
Seamus Heaney. Beowulf
William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Othello
Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre
Ursula K. LeGuin. The Left Hand of Darkness
Janet Gardner. Writing About Literature