ENG 199 Methods of Literary Study
Naomi Miller, T Th 1:00 PM-2:20 PM
Michael Thurston, T Th 9:00 AM-10:20 AM
An introduction to the English major, English 199 teaches the skills one needs to study literature with understanding and pleasure. Using examples from different periods and different regions of the English–speaking world, we will develop a sense of how poetry, prose fiction, and drama work and how they relate to one another.
All sections will practice these elements of critical analysis:
· Reading closely—practice in making good sense of literary language in all its verbal and syntactic complexity
· Understanding elements basic to all literature—tone and levels of diction, point of view, figurative language, allusion, varieties of plot structure
· Scanning poetry—reading for meter, rhyme, and sound
· Understanding genre—what it means for an author to write in a given genre, how genres are related to one another, how they develop over time
· Situating literature in history—how to understand literature in the context of historical events and social forces
· Learning from others—how to read and evaluate published literary criticism
In short, the course seeks to help its students become perceptive readers equipped with the necessary vocabulary and techniques to take on complex texts. Readings in different sections will vary, but all will involve active discussion and frequent writing. Our goal is to convey our own joy in reading, discussing, and writing about literature to every student in the course.
Works will include poetry by Sylvia Plath and Louise Gluck; Shakespeare’s The Tempest and a contemporary film of the play; a novel by Elizabeth Nunez that adapts The Tempest in a contemporary Caribbean setting; and a selection of essays modeling a variety of critical approaches.
An important note about placement: prospective English majors with strong high school preparation in literature and good writing skills are encouraged to take this course in the fall of their first year; those who judge that they need additional practice in analyzing literature and writing papers are advised to take English 120 in the fall and English 199 in the spring. (Measures of strong preparation might include a 4 or a 5 on the AP exam or a verbal SAT above 710.) Students uncertain about placement are invited to consult with the chair or any member of the department. English 199 is by no means limited to prospective English majors; we welcome any student who wishes to strengthen her skills in reading and writing about literature.
Is literature a matter of what we read or how we read? Is it a set of texts or a set of practices? Is literary study best seen as the interpretation of texts (reading them to see what they mean, also known as hermeneutics) or as the analysis of texts (reading them to see how they mean, also known as poetics)? What is the value of literature (whatever that is)? Or of reading (whatever that is)? And how do these values interact with other values we hold as individuals or social subjects? Whatever we think literature is, whatever we think it’s for, and whatever we think we are supposed to do with it, how can we most effectively communicate our understandings about it to others? In this course, we will read a number of texts in various genres, we will step back from our interpretive readings to think about the poetics that produced the texts, and we will explore an array of ways -- from the conventional individually authored explication and critical essay to collaborative and digital editions, annotations, and presentations.