We will look closely at Romantic, Victorian, and Modern masterpieces of poetry, fiction,
prose, and drama written from around 1790 through 1940, with a few pieces added to
bring us into the post-World War II period. This material is incomparably rich and
we will do our best, in the short time that we have, to mine it for its wisdom and
artistry. It makes for some wonderful reading!
We will keep four basic principles in mind as we attempt to interpret the course material:
1. Great literature is the “secular scripture,” in the words of Canadian critic Northrop
Frye. British literature represents the collective wisdom of the people of the United
Kingdom gathered over a long period of time, and, like the Bible, the particular literature
that we will be studying sets a standard not only for wisdom but for beautiful expression
2. The interpretation of literature is a performance art. An excellent interpretation
is characterized by precision and elegance. As you read and write about this work,
think of yourself as a pianist performing a great composer’s work. Which notes will
you emphasize, which themes will you bring out, and how will your interpretation hold
together? Will your interpretation make an impact on the audience, or not?
3. Excellent interpretation is possible only after thorough, detailed reading and
study of the works themselves, mastery of the requisite technical skills, and the
application of deep thought and feeling. In short, an excellent interpretation is
the product of very hard work and sensitivity. A pianist must think about and play
over each work numerous times before a concert.
4. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote, “mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself,
but talent instantly recognizes genius.” These works have served as models for generations of talented writers and thinkers,
who have recognized their quality. They will also inspire and improve your own thoughts
Text: Norton Anthology of English Literature, eighth edition, vol. 2, ISBN 0393925323, paperback. This is a thick and heavy book
but a very good one.
Work load: There will be three midterms and a final, each including passage identification and