Graduate Level:

English 539: The Gothic, Duquesne University, fall 2016

How do we account for the popularity and persistence of gothic tropes in the history of the novel? What exactly is the gothic, and what are its cultural and literary functions? These questions will guide our journey into gothic fiction in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain. We will begin with the earliest “gothic story,” Horace Walpole’s The Mystery of Otranto, and investigate the emergence of gothic fiction out of a medieval past and alongside the birth of the novel. Then we’ll consider how the gothic gets domesticated at the beginning of the nineteenth century by writers like Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen. Our nineteenth-century reading will lead us to investigate the role of the gothic in an era of rationality, individualism, and realism. We’ll examine the relationship between gothic and Realism in Wuthering Heights, consider the psychological effects of gothic narratives in Poe and Freud, and explore how gothic tropes and narratives get transformed in sensation stories, detective tales, and medical narratives. We’ll finish off the semester with that masterpiece of late-gothic novels, Dracula, and with a brief foray into the future of the gothic with the 2015 movie Crimson Peak.

Although this course traces a specific literary genre in a specific literary period, it is designed to introduce graduate students interested in a variety of literary fields to questions about genre, the relationship between literature and science, and the capacity of fiction to question and shape the psychological and social characteristics of modern individuals. In asking why an exaggerated version of a pre-modern past congeals as a literary style during a historical period that ostensibly favored realism, rationalism, and reform, we will be engaging in discussions about historicism, literary form, psychology, interdisciplinary, and the relationship between individuals and their complex social, evolutionary, and cultural milieus. Students will give brief presentations, develop a final paper with opportunities for feedback, and present a shortened version of their work in a mini-conference at the end of the semester.

English 536/636: Victorian Literature: The One and the Many, Duquesne University, spring 2016

This graduate class will introduce you to many of the key features of Victorian literature, with a particular focus on the major literary forms of the period (including the multiplot novel, the dramatic monologue, serial installments, and sensation and detective fiction). Our subtitle – “the one and the many” – ties together many of the texts we will be reading this semester. Consequently, our questions might include the following: What is the relationship between the individual and society in Victorian literature? Is the individual conceived as one contained self or as many interrelated components? How do we understand a whole text or a single installment in relation to a novel’s many serial parts? How do the plots of a multiplot novel relate to one another? How does this era consider its relationship to an increasingly expanding evolutionary past?

Our reading method in this class will be a little unusual. We will begin the semester in the 1840s with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues and end the semester in the 1890s with science fiction. In the middle, we will read like the Victorians: serially. Our central texts will be George Eliot’s Middlemarch and a Wilkie Collins sensation novel (The Woman in White or The Moonstone, depending on the class’s preference). We will read both novels in installments simultaneously, along with some short excerpts from contextual non-fiction from the period, contemporary reviews, and critical pieces. Along the way, we will reflect upon the experience of serial reading, evaluating how attention to publication and reception impacts our understanding of literary form.

You will write regular reading responses, present on a contextual topic related to the course material, and write a final paper of 15-20 pages. We will dedicate one class towards the end of the semester to a “mini conference,” in which you will each present a short conference-style version of / section from your final project to receive feedback on your work-in-progress from the class. 

English 693 (Graduate Seminar): Subjectivity and Objectivity: Victorian Novels, Science, and Critical Perspectives, Duquesne University, fall 2014

Upper-level graduate seminar for Ph.D. students and second-year MA students.

In this seminar we will explore the role of perspective – in particular the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity – in Victorian literature and in our own critical work. Our approach will be threefold. First and foremost, we will consider how and to what effect Victorian novels use narrative perspectives – omniscience, the first-person, multiple narrators – to experiment with ways of constructing human subjectivity. Secondly, alongside these novels we will look at how Victorian scientific and cultural theorists thought about the relationship between objective, detached knowledge and subjective, bodily sensation. Finally, we will reflect upon our own critical practices of detachment and attachment, distance and closeness, in literary study. We will explore theories of distance and totality offered by writers as different as Georg Lukács, Michel Foucault, and Franco Moretti, and we will consider alternatives to critical distance imagined by Michel de Certeau, affect theorists, and Victorian literary critics themselves. This seminar requires active engagement from all participants in our discussions, and you will build up a research project in stages.

Undergraduate Level:

English 420W: Victorian Sensation, Duquesne University, fall 2017

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In this course we will investigate a peculiar Victorian phenomenon: sensation! At the heart of our syllabus will be the genre of fiction that came to be known in the 1860s and 70s as “sensation fiction,” epitomized by Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley Secret. Full of intrigue adapted from popular trials and news, these page-turners focused on adultery, madness, murder, or intrigue, and it is perhaps no surprise that they were some of the earliest detective stories. But while we focus on these fictional “sensation” stories and the public response that surrounded them, we will also investigate just what “sensation” in the Victorian era has to do with both bodily sensation and popular interest and excitement. We will consider the relationship between mind and body in Victorian psychology and ask what light this might shed on with the fiction we read. And we will learn about sensations in the British media in the second half of the nineteenth century, which will take us from the excitement surrounding the Great Exhibition of 1851 to the rise of photography, and from coverage of the “Jack the Ripper” murders to the trial of Oscar Wilde at the end of the century. In addition to our sensational texts, we will also read canonical fiction by George Eliot (“The Lifted Veil”), Arthur Conan Doyle (“A Study in Scarlet”), and Wilde himself (The Picture of Dorian Gray). You will have two main assignments in this class. In addition to a traditional research paper, which you will build up across the second half of the semester with an opportunity for revision based on feedback, you will also take charge of “curating” an event or object from the Victorian era as part of our class Victorian Sensations web exhibit.

English 424W: Gothic Fiction, Duquesne University, fall 2016

Strange events, gloomy villains, persecuted heroines, crumbling mansions, the occasional vampire – these are the tropes we tend to associate with gothic fiction. But what exactly is the gothic, and why was (and is) it so popular? In this class we will be investigating the rise of the gothic from the late eighteenth and into the nineteenth century in Britain, with a brief foray into our twenty-first century future. We’ll explore what the gothic is and does, what it has to do with “Realism,” and whether fiction can expose dark and hidden aspects of modern psychology and society that we might not otherwise confront. We’ll begin our reading with the “first” gothic story, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto; spend a little time with Romantic poets writing about dangerous and persecuted women; and then enter the nineteenth century with Jane Austen’s parody of gothic fiction, Northanger Abbey. As we move into the Victorian era we will see how gothic tropes make an appearance on the Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights, investigate the psychological horror of Edgar Allan Poe, and look at what happens when the gothic meets science in sensation and detective stories. We’ll end the semester with a masterpiece of late-gothic fiction, Dracula, before skipping forward to a modern movie adaptation of gothic romance, Crimson Peak

English 418: Nineteenth Century Poetry, Duquesne University, fall 2015


“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” So wrote Percy Shelley in 1821, hopeful about the capacities of poetry to get at the heart of what he called the “spirit of the age.” In this class we will explore nature and functions of poetry in the Romantic and Victorian periods of Britain in order to better understand the relationship between poetry and the “spirit of the age.” We will read this poetry closely and critically, unpacking its form and considering its aesthetic, social, and even political impacts. How does poetry grapple with everything from imagination to industrialization, from the natural world to the nation state? How do poets craft new ways to think about gender and class in a time of shifting boundaries and new ways to explore the relationship between God and humans in a time of increased skepticism? 

English 417: Nineteenth-Century British Literature: Progress and Change? Duquesne University, spring 2015

This course surveys British literature in the nineteenth-century by focusing on novels, poetry, and prose dealing with progress and change, including works by authors such as William Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson, Charles Darwin, and George Eliot. The nineteenth-century has been labeled “The Age of Progress” in Britain; it was a time of massive population growth, industrial and technological advancement, new scientific theories, imperial expansion, and rapid cultural change. By examining the literature of this period, we explore just what “progress” meant in the Romantic and Victorian periods. What, or who, was excluded from this progressive history? This engages us in questions about gender, class, imperialism, science, religion, and art.

One of the students' projects for this semester involved putting together a web project on Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South, which you can find here.

English 323W: Life Writing, Duquesne University, fall 2015

In this course we will explore the genre of life writing in theory and in practice. We will consider how writers construct the story of a life or a life experience and how we tell stories about ourselves. How do we use writing to construct our own or other people’s identities? How are these stories affected by place and relationships or by gender, sexuality, race, nationality, and/or social status? How true are these stories, and how do we evaluate the relationship between storytelling and truth? We will read a range of life writing genres. Your assignments in this class will be both critical and creative. You will keep a portfolio of short writing assignments, including journals, short memoir pieces, and responses to our reading, and you will write one critical essay and one longer piece of life writing. We will regularly workshop our writing together in class, and you will have opportunities to revise your writing.

English 300: Critical Issues in Literary Studies, Duquesne University, spring 2015

This course is designed to introduce students to the practices of literary criticism. Students engage in close analysis of primary literary texts; discuss and research a text's historical and cultural contexts; and examine a range of scholarly approaches to a text. We also spend time learning how to use print and electronic resources available to literary scholars. As we grasp the practices of literary scholarship and try our hands at different approaches, we also reflect upon the purposes and goals of literary study. In addition to keeping a reading response "notebook," students join the scholarly conversation with other literary critics by proposing, researching, drafting, and revising their own research paper in order to develop the skills they will need for the English major:  interpretive reading, critical thinking, research, and writing.

English 318: Survey of British Literature II, Duquesne University, spring 2015 & spring 2017

This course surveys British literature in the major genres (poetry, essay, novel, and drama) from the late eighteenth century to the mid twentieth century, with a particular focus on how writers across this period explore the relationship between self and world. In closely reading key individual works, we study important practices and revisions of literary tradition and form. We also keep one eye toward writers' common practices to group them into the following literary "movements": Romantic, Victorian, and modernist. Studying the works in the context of these movements allows us to listen to the writers’ conversations—and disagreements—across and within movements and to situate those conversations within the changing landscape of British cultural history. Requirements include class participation, short papers, a wiki project, an essay, and two exams.

English/Women's & Gender Studies 117C: Love and Dystopia (AMOR Freshman Learning Community Course), Duquesne University, fall 2017

In this class we will explore fiction that images how love suffers, survives, and even flourishes in dystopian worlds. Our readings each create fictional worlds that are strangely like our own but amplify the worst possibilities for our societies, economies, institutions, and environments. In each case we will ask what happens to love—sex; romance; love between friends and family; love for nation and creed; and love for objects and places—in a world that seems hostile and frightening.  Many of the dystopias we will encounter in this class amplify the way our social and institutional structures treat and shape identities, communities, and relationships. We will read and watch a range of stories in this class, from classic dystopian fiction to more recent young adult and children’s stories. Throughout the class we will examine how dystopian fictions interrogate our contemporary responses to gender, class, race, sexuality, and disability.

English 115C: Love of Books (AMOR Freshman Learning Community Course), Duquesne University, fall 2016

Why do we read books? Why and how do we love (or hate) books? And how can we use books as tools for social justice? AMOR students will explore these questions as we investigate the cultural meaning of books, from criticism to celebration and from book collecting to book burning. We will discuss popularity, “relatability,” critical interpretation, and the difference between reading for fun and literary criticism. We will delve into some book history, consider the impact of technology on books and reading, and discuss access to books. A central component of this class will be how books function in the face of violence and oppression. We will read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran to examine the relationships between reading, love, and violence, and we will also work with Book’Em, an organization in Pittsburgh that sends books to prisoners throughout Pennsylvania. 

English 112C: Love of Books (AMOR Freshman Learning Community Course), Duquesne University, spring 2016

From book collecting to fan fiction and from criticism to celebration, this class asks students to probe the cultural and personal meanings of books, why we read (and love) them, and how books can be used as tools for social justice. Students will explore the role books play in our culture, in other cultures, and in their own lives, and they will engage in discussions about popularity, didacticism, banned books, “relatability,” guilty pleasures, and the boundaries between academic literary criticism and popular writing about books. We will look at contemporary book reviews, debate the role of books inside and outside the classroom, and discuss the genre of “bibliophilia.” We will also explore the relationships between acts of reading, love, and violence in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass and Reading Lolita in Tehran. In addition to exams, assignments will include a mixture of critical and personal writing, including critical reading responses, short book reviews, a personal non-fiction essay, and a reflective writing exercise that connects this class with the AMOR Learning Community. 

English 201: Introduction to Fiction: Stories and Selves, Duquesne University, spring 2016 & spring 2017

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion tells us. What does this mean? Is storytelling and fiction a part of who we are as humans? Do books make us better people? What role has fiction played in our understanding of ourselves as humans, individuals, citizens?

These are some of the questions we will ask as we begin our conversation about how fiction works, why we read it, and how it shapes our understanding of human selves. We will consider whether science can explain storytelling, investigate the art of the short story, explore the personal and critical ways in which we can respond to fiction, and evaluate the role of the novel in telling stories about identity. We will also discuss reading for pleasure, and you will get to vote in groups on a “guilty pleasure” read. Our reading journey will begin with children’s literature and short stories (by Poe, Jewett, Marquez, Baldwin, and Atwood) and continue with two novels (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) and two films. Assignments will include short written responses, two exams, and a final group project. 

English 201: Introduction to Fiction: Fiction and Identity, Duquesne University, fall 2014

Undergraduate elective English course. We will begin our class with this premise: fictional narratives help us to understand who we are; they explore what it means to be a human, an individual, and part of a complex social world. Our task this semester will be to investigate how fiction works and how it can reflect, critique, and even change our understanding of human identity.

We will be reading three novels (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Charles Dickens'sGreat Expectations, and Kazuo Ishiguro'sNever Let Me Go) alongside a series of short stories and two films. As we read major works of literature that challenge us to rethink how we understand human identity, you will learn the elements of fiction and how they work together to achieve particular effects, and we will discuss how fiction responds and contributes to the culture from which it emerges to shape how we understand who we are. 

English 184: Mystery and Detection, Duke University, fall 2012

A gateway to the English major, this survey class asked students to examine a series of texts that use mystery as a formal device, from Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex to twentieth-century psychological thrillers, incorporating canonical texts (Twelfth Night, Jane Eyre) and classic mystery stories (Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie) along the way. Focused on the birth of detective fiction in the 19th-century. Made possible by the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Fellowship.

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English 26: Vampires, Monsters, Humans: Literature and Science, Duke University, fall 2010

Elective English course for non-majors focusing on the relationship between literature and science (from the 19th to the 21st century) as they define what counts as “human.” Combined literary and scientific texts that explore the borderlines between the human and the non-human, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and from Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man to contemporary articles on genetic engineering.