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Senior Seminar

All English majors are required to take the Eng 450: Senior Seminar course during the Fall of their senior year.

Though seminars vary in focus and content, each addresses its subject in the context of current critical discourse and requires students to write a long research-based paper.

Registration for the seminars are handled through the English department administrator.  It is conducted one year in advance, during the junior year, with majors being notified of seminars offerings and registration procedures.


Fall 2018 Senior Seminars

Eng 450-01:  John Keats
Professor:  Kurt Fosso
MW 3:00-4:30

Nearing the end of his short life, John Keats advises a fellow poet, “‘Load every rift’ of your subject with ore.”  Keats would write little more.  But it is advice he himself had taken in his journeyman’s career, and notably in his annus mirabilis of 1819, when he composed most of the poems that secured his fame and his enduring place among the English poets—as he hoped.  Keats is indeed one of the all-time great crafters of poetry, and to study his work is to engage in his “ore”-filled vein of figurative leaps and puns, odd tropes and allusions, philosophical depths, and, as he said of Wordsworth, the “dark passages” of human life and its discontent.  In fact, for Keats it is only “those to whom the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let them rest,” who fulfill the vital vocation of poet.  

Although we’ll read poems from throughout Keats’s brief career, we shall focus especially on the mature poems of 1819, including the great Odes.  We’ll also read many of his letters, in which he provides his literary-poetic theories as well as his observations about life in a time of political, artistic, and other struggles and crises.  We’ll indeed explore how Keats is more than ‘only’ a creator of beauty (“a joy forever,” he wrote); he is, as his words about poetry suggest, a daring pioneer of the creation and discovery of truths and social meanings in a world of discontent—truths and meanings that perhaps art alone can offer.

Along with studying Keats’s poetry and selected letters, students will also read his biography and numerous critical essays.  Each seminar member will write a 20-25 page paper providing a clear, substantiated, and well-researched argument focused upon one or more of the author’s poems.  Near the semester’s end, she or he will deliver a portion of the essay’s findings in a formal, class presentation.

Eng 450-02:  Medieval Dream Visions
Professor:  Karen Gross
TTH 9:40-11:10

Oracular pronouncement from God? A liminal space between life and death? Or just a night of indigestion? Since antiquity, dreams have been attributed to various causes and freighted with meaning. Dreams also have long been linked to poetry, a space for the imagination to run unfettered, as Adam explains to Eve:

                                    in the Soule
Are many lesser Faculties that serve
Reason as chief; among these Fansie next
Her office holds; of all external things,
Which the five watchful Senses represent,
She forms Imaginations, Aerie shapes,
Which Reason joyning or disjoyning, frames
All what we affirm or what deny, and call
Our knowledge or opinion; then retires
Into her private Cell when Nature rests.
Oft in her absence mimic Fansie wakes
To imitate her; but misjoyning shapes,
Wilde work produces oft, and most in dreams,
Ill matching words and deeds long past or late.
(Paradise Lost 5.100-13)

This seminar will explore the fruitful association of dreams and literature, focusing particularly on some of the most thrilling visions from medieval England as well as a few later responses to these works. Along the way, we’ll explore how authors have used the alternative space of dreams to explore problems difficult to tackle in the cold rationality of wakefulness, including the nature of fame, the healing of grief, the construction of a utopian society, and the boundary between the finite Creature and infinite Creator. We’ll also encounter some of the most haunting and evocative images ever conceived in English literature: bloody rain, temples of bronze and ice, a maiden of pearl, the hazelnut, and talking chickens. Possible readings include Chaucer’s House of Fame and Parliament of Fowls, the Gawain-Poet’s Pearl, Julian of Norwich’s Showings, William Morris’s News from Nowhere, and T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

Eng 450-03:  Regional Modernism / Modernist Regionalism
Professor:  Kristin Fujie
TTH 11:30PM-1:00PM

In this course we will explore the interplay between two movements in American literature that have often been understood as antithetical and even adversarial to one another: regionalism and modernism.  Firmly rooted in the nineteenth century and popularized by writers such as Sarah Orne Jewett and Mark Twain, regionalist fiction typically focuses on rural settings and local cultures, and has been characterized by its critics as provincial, quaint, and nostalgic.  Modernism, in contrast, erupts in the twentieth century on an international scale, and it is typically associated with urban centers, formal experimentation, and difficulty.  It is anything but quaint.  And yet, an unmistakeable strain of regionalism runs through the work of twentieth-century writers such as Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, William Carlos Williams, William Faulkner, Jean Toomer, and Zora Neale Hurston—that is to say, through the very core of American modernism.  In this course we will look at a mix of canonical and lesser known writers from the twentieth century (and maybe one or two from the nineteenth century) in order to explore what happens when we try to think about American modernism through the lens of regionalism, and vice-versa.  Readings will include some of those listed above.  Additional texts will be selected in consultation with students who enroll.

Eng 450-04:  Virginia Woolf, Essayist
Professor:  Rishona Zimring
TTH 1:50PM-3:20PM

This seminar explores the rich insights and stylistic variety of Virginia Woolf’s diverse and prolific work as an essayist. We will read not only the well-known A Room of One’s Own, but the even fiercer and exhilaratingly experimental Three Guineas, in which Woolf takes on topics such as education, patriarchy, dictatorships, and how the three are intertwined during the rise of fascism and the Spanish Civil War. We will discuss the memoir as a genre, drawing on Woolf’s explicitly autobiographical writings such as “A Sketch of the Past.” In order to compare Woolf’s non-fiction with her fiction, we will also read and reflect on either To the Lighthouse (1927) or The Waves (1931), to consider the interaction of autobiographical and imaginative writing. We’ll read a range of Woolf’s commentaries on her literary predecessors (poets, novelists, playwrights, essayists) such as “I am Christina Rossetti,” as well as her essays about her contemporaries and her theories of fiction and poetry. Life writing, political commentary, advocacy for women’s rights and human rights, nature description, aesthetic appreciation, tributes to great writers, advice to young poets—Woolf relished the opportunity that essay-writing provided to figure out problems, discover and give voice to emotions, exercise her considerable gifts as a stylist, and realize her staunch ambitions as an experimental artist and engaged intellectual. Woolf’s essays are inspiring and challenging. They offer us a sustained inquiry into Woolf’s life and career, but also into the art of the essay, in general.