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Aspects of Literary History: Spring and Summer Terms 2008 Essay

Welcome to the Aspects of Literary History course. This is an ambitious course with a number of separate but interwoven strands:

1) The course will introduce you to some of the key concepts of literary history.

2) The course will enact literary history by examining the history of a particular mode of writing from its Greek origins through the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, twenty and twenty-first centuries. You will be asked to think in terms of specific literary historical periods.

3) The course will make you more familiar with the reading and interpreting of poetry, with particular attention to improving your skills in close reading.

4) The course will examine pastoral poetry from its origins in the Greek Idylls, its dissemination through Roman models and its diversification into many forms: the elegy, the country house poem, the love lyric, the poem of reflection, the philosophical poem, the nature poem and the satire.

5) The course will focus historically on the pastoral not simply because it provides the originating mode for these diverse forms but because it is the product of a specific political and social culture: an elite form produced originally in a slave culture (Greek) and disseminated through another slave culture (Roman). This will give you the basis for thinking about the historical contextualization of the pastoral as a form.

6) How have later English poets – from the seventeenth century onwards – made use of the political and social entailments of the pastoral form? How have they expanded it by the introduction of a Christian content? How have American poets made use of the form in response to the colonization of the New World, a process seen by many (at the time and subsequently) through the means of the pastoral?

7) The analysis of pastoral will enable you to undertake the most subtle intrinsic literary historical analysis, the most ambitious and the most ranging extrinsic literary historical analysis and the most effective combination of intrinsic and extrinsic modes.

The Aspects of Literary History course will be taught by lecture and seminar in the spring term and the summer term. You will use the Aspects of Literary History course reader for preparation and for seminar discussion. The poems for discussion in the lectures and in the seminars are all printed in the course reader and the course supplement. The lectures for the course will be held in Chichester Lecture Theatre on Mondays 12-1. The seminars for the course will take place later in the week. Please check the timetable for your individual tutor and for the time of your seminar.

There are four secondary texts we would also like you to read during this course: Paul Alpers’ What Is Pastoral?, Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City, Jonathan Bate’s The Song of the Earth and Chris Fitter’s Poetry, Space, Landscape. There are multiple copies of these in short loan and you should be able to read these during the vacation and during the spring and summer terms. You can borrow short loan books over the vacation and renew on-line.

Essential secondary material is available in the Reserve Collection or in the Artsfac part of the Reserve Collection. [Ask at the Reserve Collection Counter: this material is stored under the name of the course convenor, Alistair Davies].

The seminar strand will support the lecture series by ensuring that you have grasped the literary historical topic of the week (definitions and information are set out in the reader).

But it will function principally a) to improve your confidence and skill in reading poetry and b) to encourage you [if you wish] to explore your own creative response in poetry to the themes and topics of the course. We hope that you will become more proficient, more imaginative and more self-assured readers of poetry.

Your written course work will be two 1000 word course work essays [20% each]. We are hoping to encourage you to be concise, focused and lucid in your writing. You will have the opportunity, if you wish, to submit one piece of creative writing out of two pieces of written work for the course. Remember to check your written work against the criteria set out in the ‘Feedback and How to Make Use of It’ document you were given last term.

To underline the importance we attach to your creativity, we draw your attention to details of the Stanmer Prize on page 4 of the course reader. You can read the poems produced by previous winners on the English web-site.

The course will also be examined by an unseen in the summer term [60%]. You will be required to comment closely on three poems or passages of poems in ways that reflect upon the literary historical topics covered in the course. You can consult past examination papers through the Sussex web-site.

You will find below a detailed plan of the course. You will be able to see how lectures prepare you for seminars in each week; and you will be able to plan your work for the course from the beginning to the end of the course. We hope that you will find this course informative and enjoyable. If you have any queries, do not hesitate to contact your course tutor or the course convenor, Dr Alistair Davies [[email protected]]

The course will be taught in the following order [the order in which it is set out in the course reader]:

Week 1:Genre and Conventions

The first lecture by Professor Norman Vance will focus on Milton’s Lycidas and Paradise Lost and will explore Milton’s use of classical genre(s) and conventions. Prepare for the lecture by reading the ‘Genre and Conventions’, ‘The Origins of the Pastoral’ and ‘the Pastoral Elegy’ sections of the course reader and the section of the Aspects Course Supplement.

Week 1: Norman Vance: ‘Pastoral Genre and Convention: Milton’s Lycidas and Paradise Lost

In your first seminar, you will focus on two poems — Herrick’s ‘To Daffodils’ (p.33) and Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘North Haven’ (p.5). What are the generic constituents of Herrick’s poem? What makes Bishop’s poem a) a pastoral elegy and b) how does it differ as a modern pastoral elegy from Milton’s Renaissance pastoral elegy? Paul Alpers’ study of pastoral cited in the course reader will be helpful here. You may wish to read Alpers’ discussion of Lycidas in What is Pastoral [there are copies of this in reserve and in short loan; copies too in Artsfac]. We begin with pastoral and we will focus on pastoral; but one presupposition we will explore in the course is that the pastoral idyll provides the matrix out of which the elegy, the love poem, the poem of philosophical reflection, the subjective lyric, the love poem, the satire and the nature poem are developed within the western and within the English tradition.

Week 2: Intertextuality.

The second lecture will be given by Professor Andrew Hadfield and will focus on Jonson’s To Penshurst. Prepare for the lecture by re-reading Virgil’s first eclogue and Horace’s second epode in the course reader. You will find To Penshurst in the course reader (pp.29-31). Read the ‘Intertextuality’ section of the course reader, pp.26-32.

Week 2: Andrew Hadfield: ‘Intertextuality: Ben Jonson’s ‘To Penshurst and the Country-House Poem’

For your seminar, read Yeats’ ‘Coole Park, 1929’ and Walcott’s ‘Ruins of a Great House’ in the course reader (pp.31-32). How does Yeats relate to Jonson; how does Walcott relate to Yeats (who was an important early influence)? What does it tell us about history and about the history of literature that a poet of the English renaissance, an Irish poet of the 1920s and a Caribbean poet of post-war period should use a form established by Roman poets in the first century BC. What are the links between pastoral, the country-house poem and empire?

Week 3/: Literature and Social Change

The third lecture of the term will be given by Dr Sophie Thomas on the topic of the eighteenth century prospect poem.

Week 3: Dr Sophie Thomas: Politics, Poetics and Landscape

For this lecture, Sophie Thomas will explore the changing modes of the prospect poem in works by Pope, Gray, Cowper and Smith printed in the course reader (pp.36-45) and Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey printed on pages 47-48. Please read the section Literature and Social Change, pp.33-48 of the course reader.

In her lecture, Sophie Thomas will explore the so-called prospect poem, raising questions about the class and the gender position of the viewer and about the different ways in which nature is re-presented. Will you please read carefully Gray’s ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.’

In your seminar, your tutor will either focus on one or more of the poems by Gray, Cowper and Smith in the reader. How important is it to take into account the gender of the poets discussed? Does a female writer have a different sense of the possession of a landscape to a male writer?

Week 4: Literature and Social Change

The fourth lecture of the term will be given by Dr Sophie Thomas. Please prepare by reading the poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge in the course reader, pp. 45-48.

Week 4: Dr Sophie Thomas: The Landscape of the Imagination: Wordsworth and Coleridge

In your seminar, you will read Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey (p.47). How does the tradition of the pastoral poem enable the poet to write here a poem of psychology, a poem of philosophical reflection and a poem of relationship [remember it is addressed to the poet’s sister]. Even though it is written [for us] in heightened diction, this was written as an example of a form Coleridge and Wordsworth admired, the so-called conversational poem. Of course, The Prelude is one, very long conversational poem.

Week 5: Research Break

Week 5 will be a research break for your seminar (this will allow you to catch up with your reading and your writing). You will write your first assignment.

Your first written assignment will be due in week 6 [check on Sussex Direct] : one 1000 word essay — 1) a reading of either a) Jonson b) Bishop c) Yeats or d) Walcott in the light of questions of genre, convention and intertextuality or 2) a reading of the prospect poem, with reference to Gray, Cowper, Smith or Wordsworth) or, if you wish, 3) you may write an account of George Herbert’s ‘Life’ and Andrew Marvell’s ‘The Garden’ in the supplement in relationship to ideas of melancholy and of loss, pp. 6-7. The poetry of the English renaissance provides the models from which the English poets of the Romantic period develop the religious, philosophical and psychological preoccupations of their verse.

Your seminar tutor will set you specific titles for this assignment.

Week 6: Literary History and Periodisation (pp.37-40)

The fifth lecture will be given by Dr Alistair Davies on Goldsmith’s ‘The Deserted Village’ pp.53-58 of course reader). Please read this poem closely before the lecture.

Week 6: Dr Alistair Davies: ‘Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village: Literary History and Periodisation.

To prepare for the topic for week 6, read the section on Literary History and Periodisation (pp. 49-58) in the course-reader and the section on Literary History and Periodisation in the course supplement.

The lecture will set the poem in the context of the construction of an eighteenth century landscaped estate and house. The University of Sussex is built in the eighteenth-century country-park of Stanmer House. Please take a stroll around this park (or its remnants) and have a look at the Palladian-style Stanmer House (see final page of course reader).

In your seminar, you will discuss the Virgilian and Horatian intertexts of The Deserted Village, relate the poem to questions of globalisation and migration, and explore the links between Goldsmith’s poem and the English landscape and pictorial tradition of the eighteenth century represented by Gainsborough’s painting in the course reader and on its back cover.

Please also read the account of Michael McKeon’s article ‘The Pastoral Revolution’ cited in the course reader. There is a brief précis in the course reader but you should make every effort to read the whole of this important article in Kevin Sharpe and Steven N.Zwicker (eds): Refiguring Revolutions.

You would also benefit, if you have not yet done so, from reading the recommended chapters in Raymond Williams’s indispensable The Country and the City [there are many copies of this in reserve and in short loan] and Jonathan Bate’s The Song of the Earth.

Week 7. Literary History: Politics and the Subject of Modernity

The sixth lecture of the course will be given by Dr Alistair Davies on The Prelude.

Week 7: Dr Alistair Davies: ‘Wordsworth’s The Prelude: Politics and the Subject of Modernity’

For your preparation, please re-read The 1805 Prelude, with particular reference to Books 1, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13. For the seminar, we want you to read A.R.Ammons’s ‘Corsons Inlet’ (pp. 77-8). In what ways can you read Ammons’s poem as a post-Romantic rejoinder to ‘Tintern Abbey’? In what way is twentieth century American poetry, as we find it instanced in Ammons’ poem, a critique of the English Romantic tradition and of the American nineteenth century transcendental tradition it helped to shape? Remember that Wordsworth is a fundamental precursor figure for the modern American lyric poet as he is for the modern English lyric poet. Remember too that the pastoral is a fundamental form in American self-identification in the founding and settling of the New World. Sylvia Plath’s has written wonderful and little known sonnet ‘Mayflower’ on this topic, which you will find on page 49 of the course reader.

Week 8. Feminist Literary History.

The seventh lecture will be given by Dr Jenny Taylor on Christina Rossetti, concentrating on ‘Goblin Market’, pp. 66-71 of the course reader. Please prepare for the lecture by reading Goblin Market and the section on Feminist Literary History in the Aspects course reader, pp.63-71.

Week 8: Dr Jenny Taylor: ‘Christina Rossetti and the Question of Feminist Literary History’

For your seminar, we want you to work through the three poems by Rossetti in the course reader in the light of the questions raised by the lecture and to compare them to the contemporaneous poems by Emily Dickinson in the Atlantic Studies and American pastoral section of the course reader, pp. 96.

Second assignment for delivery in week 2 of the summer term. [see Sussex Direct]. What we want you to do for your second essay is to explore the idea of loco-descriptive verse and the walking or ‘ambulatory’ poem, examining the ways in which Wordsworth and Ammons have used these forms for metaphysical and religious explorations.

You may write a walking poem for your final submission (no more than 30 lines) but with an auto-critique or justification amounting in total to 750 words. Or you may write a sonnet in the same on the building a) of Stanmer House in the 1700s or b) the University of Sussex in the 1960s — to explore a moment of profound historical transition. It would be useful to re-read Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village and the material on Enclosure and Emparking in the course reader before you embark on this (pp.53-58). You might take Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mayflower’ on page 49 as your model.

Otherwise, you may write a comparative analysis of Wordworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ and of the Ammons poem. Or your tutor may set you an exercise which has arisen from discussions in your final seminar on Hardy. This exercise is 1000 words long.

Week 9. Literary History: Transmission and Dissemination

The eighth lecture will be given by Professor Norman Vance on pastoral and the loss of faith reflected in and through attitudes to nature in Romantic and post-Romantic poetry, focusing on the poems by Wordsworth, Shelley and Hardy in the course reader, pp.72-77. Please read the section on Literary History and Dissemination in the course reader, pp.47-51.

Week 9: Prof Norman Vance: ‘The Decline of Nature: from Wordsworth to Hardy’.

For your seminar, you will read the series of poems about birds and bird-song in the course supplement, [as well as poems by Hardy and Yeats in the course reader] linking the poet’s concerns with bird song and with flight to the possibility [or impossibility] of preserving the poetic tradition. How do scientific ideas – particularly those of Darwin – affect nineteenth century poetry? You will also consider the links between literary and intellectual history.

Q. What do you think are the relationships between the Samuel Palmer ‘Pastoral Scene’ (1835) on the front cover of the course reader and nineteenth century preoccupations with secularisation?

The Jo Francis essay cited in the course reader is useful for reading ‘Mont Blanc’; the Picot essay (like Francis’s essay in Artsfac in the Reserve Collection) is also very helpful.

Summer Term: 2008

We expect you to undertake some preparation for the summer term by reading the ‘Atlantic Studies and American Pastoral’ section of the course reader and the ‘Atlantic Studies and American Pastoral’ section of the course supplement.

The lecture titles for the summer term are as follows. You will be given details about the work to be undertaken during the vacation and in your term-time seminars at the end of the spring term.


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