ENG 212 Telling and Retelling

Patricia Skarda, T Th 10:30 AM-11:50 AM


This course is especially recommended for non–majors who want to read good books for a semester, and the course can be counted toward the English major.

Necessarily, this course has two subtitles: "Modern Novels and Their Famous Antecedents" and "The Pleasures of Reading and Rereading." To satisfy the first we will examine recent novels and their literary antecedents, paying close attention to whether the recent novels are dependent on or merely suggestive of their literary progenitors. To satisfy the second, we will discuss and often comment on what the pleasures of reading, especially close reading, actually are, bearing in mind that each of us may read for reasons that another may scorn. Together we will determine what we need to know to be good readers of contemporary fiction that revises, reinterprets, questions, parodies, or extends work of the past. By reading critically recent novels, students will acquire an appreciation of literary texts and contexts, old and new. Students taking this class will acquire an enhanced awareness of the reflections and refractions in the telling and retelling of stories that will never be forgotten.

A considerable number of recent novels are dependent on more than a vague familiarity with great literature of the past. But the imitative and often interpretive art of these works is often lost on readers unaware of literary antecedents. By recognizing the echoes in character, language and theme, and by seeing the connections and correspondences (and sometimes the discontinuities) between literary works, students will be brought to a heightened awareness of the literary arts.

Students will be required to write at least three reader responses, two essays (one of which may be a book or film review) and a final examination. Students will also be required to participate in one group presentation. The size of the class will determine the method of instruction, though I expect to have lively discussions between informal lectures. Movies, when available, will be shown in the late afternoon or evening, but seeing them will not be required.