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Foundations of Literary Study

English 308, Spring 2020

Prof. Jack Lynch

Revised Syllabus for COVID-19 Shutdown

Office: (973) 353-5444; 501 Hill Hall.

Hours: By appointment.


Course Description and Goals

Foundations of Literary Study is designed to introduce English majors and minors to the fundamental principles of literary interpretation. This class has a comparatively small number of primary readings (some short poems, one play, three short works of fiction, two novels), but will focus on different ways of interpreting them and making arguments about them.

By semester’s end, you should be able:

  • To engage in close-reading literature with a new degree of attention;
  • To understand something about the history of the English language;
  • To understand the rudiments of different schools of interpretation;
  • To formulate clear theses about these works of literature.

This course is required of all English majors and minors.



For each class meeting I identify three things to pay attention to:

  • The primary reading for the day
  • A few critical terms found in Baldick’s Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
  • A critical article (or book chapter), sometimes directly related to the day’s readings, sometimes related more tangentially

On a good day we’ll discuss all of them, though you’re responsible for reading them even when we don’t discuss them in class.

Four books are available from the Rutgers Bookstore:

  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed., ISBN 978-0393265422
  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Norton Critical Edition, 4th ed., ISBN 978-0393264883
  • Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower, ISBN 978-1472263667
  • Chris Baldick, The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, ISBN 978-0198715443

You’re welcome to buy them from any source that suits you, but try to get the right editions so we’re all working with the same text (the ISBNs will point you toward the right versions). Some of the readings will also be available in some electronic form or other, but these E-texts won’t have the same page numbers, notes, and supplementary materials. It’s much better to get the hard copy. But if cash is tight, well, I’ll understand.

One tool that’s indispensable: a good dictionary. I’ll introduce you to the Oxford English Dictionary in class, but you’ll want something you can use all the time. The best bet: Merriam Webster’s 11th Collegiate is available for free on your phone or tablet, and it works even when you don’t have an Internet connection. It won’t contain all the obscure words and senses you’ll encounter in this class (for that you’ll need the OED), but it’ll help with a lot of it, and you should get into the habit of looking up unfamiliar words.

Written Assignments

This class is primarily for English majors and minors. I’ll expect some degree of familiarity with what goes into college-level English papers, but still we’ll spend a lot of class time discussing what I look for when I grade them. If you’re not certain what a good college English paper looks like, talk to me any time.

There are four papers of different lengths and natures. Since this is a writing-intensive class, I’ll give you comments on them when you hand them in, but those grades are strictly provisional. You’ll have the chance to revise them, and you can submit the revised versions at the end of the semester. The grades on the revised version are the ones that count.

Your final paper will be marked with category grades for the thesis, the organization, the close reading, the research, and the grammar, style, and mechanics. These category grades are spelled out in my grading rubric; they’re assigned on an A–F scale, and are meant to tell you where to direct your energy in the revision. The overall grade on a paper is assigned holistically, based on how well all the parts come together, and may or may not be a mathematical average of the various category grades. We’ll discuss all of this in class as the papers draw near. My (still-incomplete) guide to my expectations on English papers is available online.


Once the roster settles down, I’ll pass around a sign-in sheet at the beginning of each class, with names down the side and dates across the top. All you have to do is initial the right box each day. Multiple copies of the sheet will go around to make things go faster; you need to mark only one of them.

University students are grownups, and I understand that life sometimes gets busy. Almost any excuse, therefore, given either in advance or immediately after a class (in person, by phone, or by E-mail), will receive my blessing. Absences not excused in advance will be frowned upon, and I reserve the right to lower your final grade by half a grade (A to B+, B+ to B, and so on) for each unexcused absence. The same policy applies to late assignments: I’ll grant extensions, but only if you talk to me before the due date. After that, they may be docked a half-grade for each class day.

If you have to miss a class, you’re responsible for getting the notes. Assume that in each class I’ll cover exactly what’s on the syllabus; any time I have to depart from it, I’ll announce it on Blackboard.

Class Participation

Regular and active class participation is essential. I’ve worked to keep the readings manageable and affordable, but you have to hold up your end of the bargain by doing the readings every day and participating in the discussions.

This is a smallish class, so there will be opportunities to talk. I’d like everyone to come to class with at least one question about each day’s readings in mind, whether the primary text, the critical article, or the literary terms. If class lags, I may call on you to ask your question, so be prepared.

I also expect the following in all classes:

  • On-time arrival. A few minutes into the class I’ll collect the attendance sheets; late arrivals will sign a separate sheet at the end of class.
  • Careful attention to the readings. I’ve worked to keep the readings manageable, but that means you’re expected to do them, and to do them carefully. Skimming is not good enough. Read attentively with a dictionary at hand. If you don’t understand a word, look it up. That’s a habit you should work hard to acquire, because it will serve you well in all your classes and for life in the “real world.”
  • Maturity. Some of the discussions will touch on controversial material. You’re expected to behave like adults. No topics are off-limits. Don’t be quick to take offense, and when you speak, choose your words with care to avoid offending others.
  • No disruptive talking during class.
  • Electronic devices of whatever sort — laptops, tablets, e-books, and so on — can be used only for class-related purposes. No Snapchat, no Instagram, no nothin’ else.
  • No texting, ever. This does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution or the Geneva Conventions: I checked. Put your phone away. (And don’t think you’re fooling your professors when you read and send surreptitious texts — we know.)

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

It should go without saying, but all work in this class must be your own. You’re responsible for knowing and abiding by the Rutgers Academic Integrity Policy. If you haven’t read at least the first four pages of the policy, I encourage you to do it now.

If I determine you’ve violated the policy — say, by copying work from the Internet, by working together when you’re supposed to work on your own, by getting someone to do your work for you — you’ll get an F for the class, with no second chance. I’m a pushover in many respects and I used to be similarly laid back about this, but no longer: I will report every violation. If you have even an inkling of a doubt about what’s legitimate or how to cite something, see me before handing in the paper.


I’m committed to being inclusive, and of course I’ll provide all necessary accommodations for students with documented disabilities. Get in touch with Disability Services for details on the procedures; if anything is unclear, talk to me.


Above I describe the way individual papers are graded. This breakdown shows the starting point for my grading for the semester as a whole:

  • Four papers: 20% × 4 = 80%
  • Participation: 20%

I don’t believe in penalizing students for not being proficient in writing English papers before they’ve taken an English class, so I’ll evaluate your performance over the course of the whole semester before I submit a final grade. If an early lapse is compensated for by better performance later in the semester, I’m happy to ignore a bad grade on an assignment. My usual approach is to examine all the marks and to ask what is the highest grade I can give in good conscience. After I finish wrestling with my conscience, though, grades are final, and I’ll change a grade only if I made an error in calculation. If you’re worried about your performance — if you “need a B” or some such concern — talk to me before you hand something in, not after you get the grade. I’m always happy to look at provisional theses, rough drafts, and so on.



  • Asking questions, even if that means interrupting me
  • Asking questions you think are too simple
  • Curiosity
  • Taking some intellectual risks
  • Pursuing what interests you
  • Standing up for what you believe in, including disagreeing (politely) with other students and (especially) with me
  • Admitting some of the readings don’t interest you

Not Cool:

  • Being late — especially chronically late — to class
  • Blowing off the readings
  • Telling me what you think I want to hear
  • Dishonesty of any sort — I’m a forgiving guy, and will tolerate pretty much anything so long as you don’t try to deceive me
  • Rudeness directed to other students in the class

Schedule of Class Meetings

Thursday, 23 January
Class business, &c.; Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias” (1818)
Monday, 27 January
The Lord’s Prayer (Old and Middle English)

  • Terms: Old English, Middle Englishdiction
  • Article: Richard Hogg and David Denison, “Overview,” from A History of the English Language (Canvas)
Thursday, 30 January
Thomas Malory, Syr Lancelot du Lake (1485)

  • Terms: romance, Arthurian literature, chivalric romance
  • Article: Alexandra Gillespie, “Fiction and the Origins of Print” (Canvas)
Monday, 3 February
Homer, the Cyclops episode from the Odyssey, book 9, in translations by Alexander Pope (1725), S. H. Butcher & A. Lang (1879), E. V. Rieu (1946), Robert Fitzgerald (1961), and Richmond Lattimore (1967) (Canvas)

Thursday, 6 February
John Donne, “The Good-Morrow” (1633); Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress” (written c. 1650; pub. 1681); Sharon Olds, “Topography” (1987)

  • Terms: close reading, New Critics, distant reading, lyric, couplet, carpe diem, metaphysical poets, conceit
  • Article: W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy” (Canvas)
  • Assignment: First paper due: choose any five words from readings on the syllabus up to this point, investigate them thoroughly in the Oxford English Dictionary, and tell the story of these words in about five pages. There’s no need for an introduction, conclusion, or thesis statement; just tell the story of the words, focusing on the historical information in the OED.
Monday, 10 February
John Milton, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” (written c. 1655; pub. 1673); John Donne, “Death, Be Not Proud” (written 1609, pub. 1633); Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” (1951); Elizabeth Bishop, “Sestina” (1965)

  • Terms: foot, metre, fixed forms, sonnet, quatrain, sestet, octave, villanelle, sestina
  • Article: Ben Burton, “The Work of Form” (Canvas)
Thursday, 13 February
Jericho Brown, “Duplex: Cento” (2014; just the second poem, starting at 1:20)

  • Terms: free verse, open form, centopasticheplagiarism
  • Article: Jericho Brown, “Invention
Monday, 17 February
No class! I’ll be traveling. Behave yourselves.
Thursday, 20 February
William Shakespeare, The Tempest (written c. 1610, pub. 1623), act 1

  • Terms: drama, comedy, tragedy
  • Article: Andrew Hadfield, “‘All My Travels’ History’: Reading the Locations of Renaissance Plays” (Canvas)
Monday, 24 February
Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 2

  • Terms: soliloquymonologuedramatic monologue
  • Article: William H. Sherman, “Shakespearean Somniloquy: Sleep and Transformation in The Tempest” (Norton Edition)
Thursday, 27 February
Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 3

  • Terms: postcolonial literature
  • Article: Julia Reinhard Lupton, “Creature Caliban” (Norton Edition)
Monday, 2 March
Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 4

  • Terms: masque, mise-en-scène
  • Article: John Gillies, “The Figure of the New World in The Tempest” (Norton Edition)
Thursday, 5 March
Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 5

  • Terms: unitiesdecorumconvention
  • Article: Stephen Orgel, “Prospero’s Wife” (Norton Edition)
Monday, 9 March
William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming” (1920)
  • Terms: symbol, metaphortenorimagery
  • Article: Paul D. Deane, “Metaphors of Center and Periphery in Yeats’ The Second Coming
Thursday, 12 March
Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (1725)

  • Terms: novel, picaresque novelepisodicnarrativenarration
  • Article: Kate Levin, “‘The Course of Her Whimsical Adventures’: ‘Fantomina’ and Trigger Warnings at a Women’s College” (Canvas)
  • Assignment: Second paper due: a close reading of any of the poems on the syllabus in five to eight double-spaced pages. Again, no need for a thesis, an introduction, a conclusion, or outside sources; just take me through a poem in detail, as we’ve done in class. Be sure to make use of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Monday, 16 March
No class! Spring break
Thursday, 19 March
No class! Spring break
Monday, 23 March
Meeting by WebEx to discuss plans for the rest of the semester
Thursday, 26 March
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813), vol. 1, chapters 1–12

  • Terms: novel, episodic, narrative, narration, implied author, free indirect stylethird-person narrativeomniscient narrator
Monday, 30 March
Austen, Pride and Prejudice, vol. 1, chapters 13–23

  • Terms: realism, ironylitotes
Thursday, 2 April
Austen, Pride and Prejudice, vol. 2, chapters 1–10

  • Terms: feminist criticismgynocritics
Monday, 6 April
Austen, Pride and Prejudice, vol. 2, chapters 11–19

  • Terms: Marxist criticismsocialist realismcultural materialism
Thursday, 9 April
Austen, Pride and Prejudice, vol. 3, chapters 1–10

  • Terms: preromanticismRomanticism, aesthetics
Monday, 13 April
Austen, Pride and Prejudice, vol. 3, chapters 11–19

  • Terms: semiotics, signsignifiersignifiedexegesis
Thursday, 16 April
Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower (1993), chapters 1–5

  • Terms: canon, genre fiction, science fiction
Monday, 20 April
Butler, Parable, chapters 6–10

  • Terms: utopiadystopia
  • Assignment: Paper due: put all the pieces together and write an eight-to-ten-page thesis-driven paper about any of the works on the syllabus. Be sure to make good use of the Oxford English Dictionary, close-reading, and engagement with at least one critical article.
Thursday, 23 April
Butler, Parable, chapters 11–15

  • Terms: ecocriticismnarratologyplotstory
Monday, 27 April
Butler, Parable, chapters 16–20

  • Terms: parableallegory
Thursday, 30 April
Butler, Parable, chapters 21–25

  • Terms: apocalyptic, eschatology
Monday, 4 May
Marianne Moore, “Poetry” (1924–1967); Archibald MacLeish, “Ars Poetica” (1926)

  • Terms: paraphraseambiguityspeech act theory
  • Assignment: Hand in final versions of all four papers