Syllabus for Fall 2010

Reading and Writing about Texts: Exploring the Gothic

Dr. Ellen Moody My website address is htm. The URL for the Teaching Section of my website address: e/emcourse.htm. My preferred e-mail address is:,

Description of Course

The online catalogue of the GMU English Department describes English 201 as follows:

Close analysis of literary texts, including but not limited to poetry, fiction, and drama. Emphasis on reading and writing exercises to develop basic interpretive skills. Examination of figurative language, central ideas, relationship between structure and meaning, narrative point of view, etc.

In this particular class our aim will be to read a good deal in depth and to watch a number of excellent film adaptations. The epigraph to this course is the opener to Richard Feynman's What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?:

"I have a friend who's an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, 'Look how beautiful it is,' and I'll agree. But then he'll say, 'I, as an artist, can see how beautiful the flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.' I think he's kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people -- and to me, too, I believe. Although I might not be quite as refined asethetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, I see more in the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells inside, which also have a beauty. There's beauty not just at the dimension of one centimeter; there's also beauty at a smaller dimension.

There are the complicated actions of the cells, and other processes. The fact that the colors in the flower have evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; that means insects can see the colors. That adds a question: does this aesthetic sense we have also exist in lower forms of life? There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds I don't understands how it subtracts."

There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of how to read critically. These questions when answered can lead us to understand books and lives better. What knowledge am I talking about? The conventions in texts and films that enable knowledgeable readers to move from reciting the story line of a narrative to discussing (for both books & films) genres, plot-design, characters, setting, pictorialism, themes, point of view, meditations, and (for films) kinds of shots, mise-en-scene, visualization, dramatization, landscape, use of sound (e.g., voice-over), flashbacks and more.

The goal of this particular 201 will be to make visible how literary and film critics think about texts, to look at why certain conventions are used in books and films. Our aim is not to come up with a specific kind of interpretation of a work, but to explain the forms the work takes. To do this, we will concentrate on two specific subgenres of books: gothics and the realistic novel, and the associated film genres, gothics and melodramas.

Required Texts (in the order we will read them):

Possible films (those shown in class are the required ones)


In this class you will be asked to read, see and demonstrate you have read and seen the assigned texts and films -- as well as thought about them -- by 1) writing (that is typing or printing out) three journal entries, or at-home essays following a set of guidelines and models strictly; 2) passing a midterm and final, and 3) giving one short talk or presentation to the class on some aspect of one of the assigned texts or films. You can use only one short story for one of the essays; the other essays must be on one of the novels. You can only write on a text once. If you use a text for your essay, you must use another for the midterm and final in-class essays. You can use the films, and even compare the films to the books, but you should concentrate on the textual stories.

Three Essay-Journal Entries

  1. For your first, your choices to write on are: 1) Edith Wharton's "Afterward", together with "Mr Jones"; or 2) Susan Hill's The Woman in Black; or 3) Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly or 4) Robert Louis Stevenson's "Olalla".
  2. For your second, your choices to write on are: 1) Suzy McKee Charnas's Vampire Tapestry; or 2) Henry James's Turn of the Screw; or 3) Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventures of Abbey Grange" together with "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box."
  3. For your third and last, your choices to write on are: 1) Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey;or 2) Ian McEwan's Atonement, or 3) Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

These are our Essays in the form of journals or using guidelines (Essay-Journal Entries) and are to be numbered (1, 2, and 3). What is a essay with guidelines? We will spend much time going over this document, entitled Guidelines for Writing Your Essay-Journal Entry and the student models exemplifying how to follow them. You are required to adhere to the guideliness strictly, e.g., your plot summary must not be more than 1 paragraph; your analysis of text must be 2-3 pages. The form represents my way of enabling you to learn to analyze books and films.

Due dates: you are asked to hand your work in on the day specified in the calendar; if a journal or the story is a session late, I will take down the grade an element for every sessions it is late (a B+ becomes a B, then a B- and so on). After three weeks, you will not be able to hand in your work and must take an F for the paper.

You can revise the journals if you like. If your grade for the second version is higher than the your grade for the first, I average the two grades together. If your grade on the second version is the lower, I ignore it. You can also write "extra credit" journals on authors you have not yet written about. So if you write about Mary Reilly for #1, you may get extra credit by writing a second journal entry on Wharton's "Afterward".

One Seven to Ten Minute Short Talk

You are asked to give a 7-10 minute talk on a text that will be assigned to you in class. The talks will begin the third meeting of the semester. The idea is to practice inventing a clear thesis-statement which is supported by concrete details from a text or your own experience.

The aim of this course is also to enable students to talk about texts and films in an interesting way. To do a presentation brings home two important truths about writing. To quote John Trimble in Writing with Style, the "success of a communication depends solely on how the reader receives it", and thinking clearly with the ordinary language of everyday life is the basis of a readable essay. To do well in middle class occupations outside the classroom demands that you learn how to present yourself and your point of view attractively. By asking everyone to do a short talk we can learn from one another ways of presenting the self in a poised manner that can gain respect and maybe even charm. To have everyone talk on a different short piece will also make the course more enjoyable and de-center the classroom. We can have many points of view and get to know one another a little bit.

Each student is responsible to do his or her talk on the day assigned; it is to be taken seriously as an individual project. The whole class will listen and try to respond. The ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened may teach everyone something about communication skills. The class is (in effect) turned over to the student and he or she is "on". Afterwards the class discusses the student's talk by answering four questions I ask: what was his (or her) thesis, what was the strategy used, what were the talk's strengths, and how could it be improved.

I have provided three student model talks. One is on the French writer of Arthurian romance, Chrtien de Troyes's Eric and Enide; a second is on J. L. Carr's 1980s novel, A Month in the Country; and two more on recent novel Last Orders

Two Open-Book In-Class Tests

There will be a midterm and final. For the midterm, I will hand out 25 short questions on the texts and films we have seen up to that point to take home and answer (typed), and bring to class on the day of the midterm; on that day in class each student will be asked to write in-class partial journal entries on texts they have not written essays about for the at-home essays 1 and 2. The final will cover the second half of the term's work: I will hand out another 25 short answer questions to do at home, and you will be asked to write a second single partial journal entry you have not written about otherwise in essays 2 and 3. You will be allowed to bring your books, classnotes, and any notes you have made while reading over the term. Thus the essays and tests will cover just about all the assigned readings and films in some form or other. You have the choice of which one you want to concentrate your energies on in an essay.

Class Meetings

I ask that you attend class faithfully. For most students, the less frequently they attend, the less they learn. We meet but once a week and I must cancel one class. I hope that you participate in class. To do this, you have to have read most of the text due to be read for a given meeting. Our class is large, and we will do our best to understand the gothic and what is meant by realism. I hope we will also have good class discussions of our texts & films & each student's talk.


Your grade will reflect the work you have done over the course of the whole semester. By the end of this time I should have for each student a minimum of six major grades, one for each of three essay journals, one for a short talk, and two for the exam-essays. These grades will be averaged together to form one final grade. If a student has done extra credit journals, he or she will have more grades to be averaged in. I then take into account your participation in class; if you came for help if you needed it; and those journals which showed that you cared, that you really thought about your subject and made an effort to find something out about, explore, and something intelligent, coherent, and complete. I recognize the value of, respect, and reward hard work when I see it.

The Problem of Plagiarism:

DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Plagiarism is defined by the GMU English Department as follows:

'"Plagiarism means using words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles consulted is not sufficient."

If I discover you have plagiarised, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail or report you to the Chair of my Department. I am serious about this.

How to contact me outside class:

Without an appointment:

Write to me by e-mail. My preferred address is You can write me 24 hours a day; I look at my mail at least twice a day, and I write back. Be sure to type the e-mail address to which you wish me to send my reply at the end of your message. Please feel free to write me. I will provide commentary on any drafts of essays that you send me through my e-mail addresses.

You can call the phone in the office I use (993-1171) or the English office (993-1160) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall A455 on the fourth floor. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. I have office hours on campus only on Fridays in the afternoon. I do not accept papers by email attachment. I will help you with your draft: you have to come one or more weeks ahead to my office on Friday. The secretaries don't call me; they simply place put a note in my box. The way to get an esasy to me is warm hand to warm hand. If you are late, you must put it in the box. Leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way. No-one stands guard over the boxes, so ask a secretary to initial it so then there is a record that you put it there.

With an appointment:

Individual conferences are available by appointment Friday from 2:00 to 4:20 pm in Robinson Hall A455; I can also meet with people after 7:20 pm. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets.

Other Help Outside Class

The College of Arts and Sciences runs a University Writing Center where you will find tutors to help you with writing. Their phone number is 703-993-1200. Here is a description of the place and its services:

"The George Mason University Writing Center is a writing resource open to the entire university community, offering free tutoring in a comfortable, supportive atmosphere. During face-to-face and online sessions, trained graduate and undergraduate tutors form a variety of disciplines assist writers at all stage of the writing process. Tutors emphasize positive attitudes and stratgies that help writers at any level learn to evaluate and revise their work in order to be more confident and effective writers."

To find out more and to start to use the services offered, go to the University Writing Center


Week 1: Fri, Sept 3rd

Week 2: Fri, Sept 10th

Week 3: Fri, Sept 17th

Week 4: Fri, Sept 24th

Week 5: Fri, Oct 1st

Week 6: Fri, Oct 8th

Week 7: Fri, Oct 15th

Week 8: Fri, Oct 22nd

Week 9: Fri, Oct 29th

Week 10: Fri, Nov 5th

Week 11: Fri, Nov 12th

Week 12: Fri, Nov 19th

Week 13: Fri, Dec 3rd

Week 14: Fri, Dec 10th

Week 15: Fri, Dec 17th

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated August 25, 2010.