Syllabus for Spring 2009

Reading and Writing about Texts: Gothics, Realism and Other Worlds

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, our lives and ourselves 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):

Required films (in the order we will see them)


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 using a set of guideliness; 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.

Three Essays following Guidelines

  1. For your first essay, your choice is to write about Edith Wharton's "Afterward," Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, R.L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly. You can write a comparison of Stevenson's and Martin's novels; you can also write a comparison of Wharton's ghost story, "Afterward" and Martin's Mary Reilly. You may use the film adaptations, Simon Langton's Afterward, Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein or Stephen Frears's Mary Reilly, but you must concentrate on the text in all cases, and use the film as further evidence for a thesis about these texts. We will use them to define types of gothic: terror v horror gothics, ghost (terror story often showing female development) compared to vampire and werewolf stories (horror, often written by men). Mary Reilly mixes thse types.
  2. For your second essay, you have three choices: you can write about Tsitsi Dangarembgas's Nervous Conditions, Colm Toibin's Blackwater Lightship, or Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. You may also write a comparative esay on Toibin's and Lahiri's novels. Again, you may use Mira Nair's film adaptation, The Namesake, but you are to concentrate on the book and use the film as further evidence. Here we will look at these texts and films as realistic and as about other cultures and non-mainstream norms.
  3. For your third and last essay you again have three choices: you can write about Ian McEwan's Atonement, Suzy McKee Charnas's Vampire Tapestry or Michel Faber's Under the Skin. Again, you may write comparatively: you can compare Charnas's and Faber's gothicism. Again we will see a film adaptation of one of them, Joe Wright's Atonement, which you may use as a supplement to your paper on the book. McEwan's book and Wright's film combine realism and gothicism, Charnas's book is a vampire gothic, and Faber's combines horror gothic with science fiction.

These are our Essays in the form of journals or using guidelines 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 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 for the set essay with guidelines: 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 Frankenstein for #1, you may get extra credit by writing a second journal entry on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or just Mary Reilly and so on. You can also make up your own comparative pairs; for example you could compare the heroines in different novels. I ask that you get permission first if you want to do this.

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. Two are on novel, Last Orders, a third is on the French writer of Arthurian romance, Chrtien de Troyes's Eric and Enide.

Two Open-Book In-Class Tests

There will be a midterm and final which will cover the whole term's work. Each student will be asked to write in-class partial journal entries on texts they have not written essays about. For the midterm, I will hand out 20-30 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; in that day in class you will be asked to write a single partial journal entry about a text you did not choose for the at-home essays 1, 2, and 3. The final will similarly cover the second half of the term's work, another 20-30 short answer questions to do at home, and a single partial journal entry you have not written about otherwise in class. You will be allowed to bring your books, classnotes, and any notes you have made while reading over the term.

Class Meetings

I ask that you attend class faithfully. For most students, the less frequently they attend, the less they learn. 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 the cultural history behind some of these texts may be unfamiliar so I will have to use some of the time to offer more background than is provided by our editions. However, I hope we will 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 two days each week. The secretaries don't call me; they simply place put a note in my box. If you attempt to send a late essay to me through an email attachment, it's your responsibility to make make sure it gets to me: the software you use must be compatible with mine, and I must be able to download it. Leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way. No-one stands guard over the boxes. The safest speediest way to get a late essay to me is to bring it to the next class and give it to me warm hand to warm hand. Better yet, hand it in on time.

With an appointment:

Individual conferences are available by appointment Thurs, 3:10-4:20 pm in Robinson Hall A455. 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: Thurs, Jan 22nd

Week 2: Thurs, Jan 29th

Week 3: Thurs, Feb 5th

Week 4: Thurs, Feb 12th

Week 5: Thurs, Feb 19th

Week 6: Thurs, Feb 26th

Week 7: Thurs, Mar 5th

Week 8: Spring Break: Mar 9th to 15th

Week 9: Thurs, Mar 19th

Week 10: Thurs, Mar 26th

Week 11: Thurs, Apr 2nd

Week 12: Thurs, Apr 9th

Week 13: Thurs, Apr 16th

Week 14: Thurs, Apr 23rd

Week 15: Thurs, Apr 30th

Week 16: Thurs, May 7th

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated January 1, 2009.