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 2021 Senior Seminars

Eng 450-01:  Frankenstein and the Shelleys
Professor:  Kurt Fosso
MW 3:00 - 4:30pm

This seminar will focus upon Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 Gothic novel, Frankenstein. We’ll also examine other works written by Mary as well as by her partner, Percy Bysshe Shelley, during their turbulent life together from 1814, when they eloped, until his death at sea in 1822. We’ll read their personal History of a Six Weeks’ Tour and selected letters, Mary’s “incestuous” novella Mathilda, and a number of Percy’s poems, including Alastor and “Ozymandias,” along with his darkly gothic play The Cenci. We’ll also explore Frankenstein’s cultural legacies, from the novel’s early re-creation for the London stage to James Whale’s transformative 1931 film. Each seminar member will write a 20-25 page paper providing a substantiated and well-researched argument treating one or more of these texts of fiction, poetry, prose, and drama (and film). Near the semester’s end, students will deliver a portion of their findings in a formal class presentation.


Eng 450-02: William Faulkner
Professor: Kristin Fujie
TTh 11:30am - 1:00pm

Interviewer: Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?

Faulkner: Read it four times.                                                                     —The Paris Review, 1956

One of the most innovative and challenging writers of the twentieth century, William Faulkner has left us with a large body of work that holds rich rewards for courageous and patient readers. Of the nineteen novels that he wrote, we will study just a few, which I will select from the following major works: The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1931), and/or Absalom, Absalom! (1936). These texts were published within a seven-year period during which Faulkner developed the radical narrative techniques that enabled him to probe the volatile nexus of gender, race, class, and sexuality which lies at the heart of his most powerful writings. Depending on student interest, we might also incorporate some shorter pieces by Faulkner, or work by another author who is in dynamic conversation with Faulkner (e.g. Jesmyn Ward, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin). To all this we’ll add a selective sampling of criticism in order to get a sense of how Faulkner has been read, and why his writings have proven so generative for literary critics of all stamps. This will help to prepare you for your major creative task of the semester, which will be to write a 20~25 page paper that presents an original reading of one or more of the texts from the course, and also enters into dialogue with some thread of scholarly debate. Please contact me directly if you have any questions about the class! I would love to hear from you.


Eng 450-03: Medieval Dream Visions
Professor: Karen Gross
M 3:00 - 4:30pm, TH 3:30 - 5:00pm

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, Parliament of Fowls, and Nun’s-Priest’s Tale; the Gawain-Poet’s Pearl; Julian of Norwich’s Showings; the anonymous poems The Assembly of Ladies and The Flower and the Leaf (the latter an inspiration for Keats); William Morris’s News from Nowhere, and T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.