A Syllabus for English 201.033 and 035, Fall 2004

A Primary Course on How to Read and to Write About Literature

Lecturer: Dr. Ellen Moody

Section 201.033 meets Thursday, 4:30-7:10 pm, Enterprise 279
Section 201.035, meets Thursday, 7:20-10:00 Robinson A210
My preferred e-mail address is: Ellen2@JimandEllen.org,
My website address: http://www.jimandellen.org/ellen/emhome. htm. The URL for the Teaching Section of my website address: http://osf1.gmu.edu/~emoody/emcourse.htm

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 exercsies 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. We will proceed on the assumption that our enjoyment of an experience is enriched when we understand it in thoughtful ways. 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 our lives and ourselves better. What knowledge am I talking about? The specific conventions and procedures of interpretation that enable knowledgeable readers to move from the surface meaning of a text (the story, the types of characters, the setting, the images) to how a text is put together.

The goal of this particular 201 will be to make visible how literary critics think about written texts, to explain the assumptions behind the conventions which enable people to make sense of a text beyond simply repeating the story. Our aim is not to come up with a specific kind of interpretation, but to explain the facts about the forms the works take. We will discuss what is meant by a genre or kind of work (examples are tragedy, comic, satire and romance) and what is meant by a subgenre (gothics, fantasy, realism). We will look at conventions of characterization, narrative point of view and uses of archetypal imagery. We will try to understand what is meant by irony and how it is used in literary works. The focus will be on making explicit the grounds of an interpretation. We will try to make visible the journey from reading as a process to producing written and oral literary talk by explaining the special conventions that readers call upon when they produce ordinary interpretations which make the arts which spring from the human imagination and our emotional lives alive to us.

Required Books

Required Films

Recommended Films


In this class you will be asked to read and to demonstrate you have read all the assigned texts and to see and demonstrate you have seen all assigned films -- as well as thought about them -- by 1) writing three essays with guideliness at home; 2) giving one short talk or presentation to the class; and 3) passing two open-book in-class exams: a mid-term and a final.

Three Essays following Guidelines

You are asked to write three essays following guidelines (or essay with guideliness) outside class.

  1. For the first you must choose between writing about Hill's The Woman in Black or Swift's Last Orders. You may use details from the film adaptations we see to reinforce one of your points, but your subject for your essay-journal is the text of the book, not its film adaptation.
  2. For the second you must choose between writing about Ibsen's A Doll House, or Miller's Death of the Salesman, or a group of at least three poets from Silkin's The Penguin Book of World War One Poetry. You may make use of the filmed versions of the play I have put on reserve in same spirit outlined above: you can use details to reinforce a point, but the subject of your essay-journal is the text you read.
  3. For the third you must choose between writing a comparison/contrast of Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Greene's The Quiet American or Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Teheran and Jhabvala's Heat and Dust. Once again you can use one of the above-cited films to reinforce or make a point but the subject of your essay are your two texts.

These are our "set journals" and are to be numbered (1, 2, and 3). What is a essay with guidelines? See attachment entitled Guidelines for Writing Your Essay and student models. 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. You must follow the guidelines even if you write a comparison of a text and its film adaptation. See student models. The aim of this exercise is to help you learn to read more carefully and really write analytically about what you read.

Due dates for the set essay with guideliness: 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).

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 to form a single grade for the particular essay with guidelines. If your grade on the second version is the same or lower, I ignore it. You can also write "extra credit" journals on authors you have not yet written about, or on any of the required and recommendedfor its own sake or in comparison with the text. I have provided several models, one on A Month in the Country, film and novel, one on Last Orders, film and novel, and one on Mary Reilly, film and novel.

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.

One of the aims of this course is to guide students into learning how to talk as well as how to write about texts in an educated way. To do a talk brings home two important truths about writing. To quote John Trimble, 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 charm. 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.

To have everyone talk on a different short piece will also make the course more enjoyable and de-center the classroom. It is another opportunity for a student to practice the techniques and conventions of literary interpretation. We will also have many points of view and become something like friends. 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 class is turned over to the student and he or she is "on".

I have provided three student models. Two are on Last Orders, a third is on the French writer of Arthurian romance Chrétien de Troyes's Eric and Enide.

Two Open-Book In-Class Exams

There will be two open book exams, one about mid-way in the course and a final. The in- class exams will consist of two essay questions on the texts you are supposed to have read and the films we have seen during that part of the term. The final exam will consist of two essay questions on the texts and films we have covered since the midterm exam, and there will be ten shorter questions which will require a paragraph to answer. You will be allowed to bring your books, classnotes, and any notes you have made while reading over the term.

Class Meetings

1) I ask that you attend class faithfully, read what is required in the books, and see the movies that are shown in class or assigned for seeing outside class. For most students, the less frequently they attend, the less they learn.

2) 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 some cultural history behind 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 after each student gives a 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 exams. 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

A number of our texts are "classics" commonly assigned in college courses or have been award-winning bestsellers so there are Cliff and Monarch Notes available and many printed essays on these texts; there are also sites on the Internet where you may copy or buy ready- made essays. To copy and to hand in as your own work any of such texts in whole or part is plagiarism. If I suspect anyone of, or catch anyone at, plagiarising, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail such a student and report him or her to the Chair of my Department:

'"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. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in an academic setting."

My view is such behavior makes a mockery of the goals of this course.

The English Department has also formulated a midterm grade policy which I will follow:

In English 100, 101 and English 200s, students receive a midterm letter grade based on the work of the first seven weeks of the course. The purpose of this grade is to help students find out how well they are doing in the first half of the course in order to make any adjustments necessary for success in the course as a whole. Instructors calculate letter grades based on the completed course assignments as weighted on the syllabus through the seventh week. The work in the second half of the semester may be weighted more heavily, and so the midterm grade is not meant to predict the final course grade. Students may view their grade online at WebGMU.

How to Contact Me Outside Class

Without an appointment:

Write to me by e-mail. My strongly preferred address is Ellen2@JimandEllen.org Please do not write to me at emoody@osf1.gmu.edu. I rarely look at that address and cannot take attachments through it. You can write me 24 hours a day at Ellen2@JimandEllen.org; 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 thorough 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 (703-993-1171) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. My office is Robinson A455. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. Remember that I am scheduled to be on campus only on Mondays and Thursdays; the secretaries will not call me and simply put notes in my box. Also, leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way: no-one stands guard over the boxes. If you send an essay through an attachment, it doesn't always come through. The safest speediest way to get a late essay to me is still to bring it to the next class and give it to me warm hand to warm hand.

With an appointment:

Private conferences are available by appointment on Mondays, 6:00-7:10 pm and Thursdays 3:15-4:15 pm Robinson 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 http://writingcenter.gmu.edu.


Session 1: Thurs, Sept 2

In Class: Course introduction: We will watch Herbert Wise's 1993 film adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman In Black and go over the syllabus and directed book journal forms..

Outside Class: for next week (Thurs, 2/9) read over syllabus, Directed Journal- Essay guidelines, and print out, read and bring to class student model essay-journals on Three Anonymous Anglo-Saxon Poems, Thomas Middleton's play,Women Beware Women, and on Ann Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Bring any and all questions you might have. Read The Woman in Black. Buy all the books and browse.

Session 2: Thurs, Sept 9

In Class: Class discusses techniques of literary and filmic analysis using The Woman in Black, novel and film. Plans explained.

Outside class: for next week (9/16) read as much of Last Orders as you can; print out, read and bring to class student model talks on Last Orders and Chrétien de Troyes's Erec and Enide Pick three short talks; you will be assigned one short talk for the term. The short talks begin on the 4th week.

Session 3: Thurs, Sept 16

In Class. Assignment of short talks; how to do a short talk. The class watches Fred Schepisi's 2001 film adaptation of Graham Swift's Last Orders.

Outside Class: PLAN for #1 is due. Finish reading Swift's Last Orders.

Session 4: Thurs, Sept 23

In Class: Short Talk 1: Discuss evil, guilt, and justice in The Woman In Black in terms of the wrong done to Jennet Humphrye as mother. Short Talk 2: Discuss the different ways Arthur Kidd functions in The Woman in Black. Short Talk 3: Sons and Disappointed Men (myths of masculinity and success) in Last Orders. Short Talk 4. The roles of Amy, Mandy, and June in Last Orders.

Outside Class: Read for next time Ibsen's A Doll's House.

Session 5: Thurs, Sept 30

In Class: ESSAY-JOURNAL #1 is due. Short Talk 5: The Uses of Place or Setting in The Woman in Black and Last Orders. The class will watch the 1993 BBC A Doll's House, directed by David Thacker with Juliet Stevenson as Nora and Trevor Eve as Norvald.

Outside Class: For next time (10/7) read Miller's The Death of a Salesman and Jo Mielziner's "Designing a Play" (in Viking Critical Library edition, pp. 198).

Session 6: Thurs, Oct 7

In class: Return and disucssion of Essay-Journal #1. Short Talk 6: Trace the ways in which Money is Used in A Doll's House. Short Talk 7: The theme of power in A Doll's House. Short Talk 8: The role of secrets, lying, and pretense in A Doll's House.

Outside Class: Read for next time from essays at the back of our edition of Death of a Salesman: Arthur Miller's columns (pp. 143-86), John Mason Brown's "Even as You and I," Harold Clurman's "The Success Dream," (pp. 205-216), John Gassner's "First Impressions" (pp. 231-239), Daniel E. Schneider, "Play of Dreams" (pp. 250-259), Raymond Williams, "The Realism of Arthur Miller" (pp. 313-325). If you have time, it's recommended you see The Death of a Salesman. 1985 Roxbury/World The Death of a Salesman, directed by Volker Shlondorff, with Dustin Hoffman as Willy and John Malkovitch as Biff.

Session 7: Thurs, Oct 14

In Class: Short Talk 9: Oppressive and illegitimate norms (myths of masculinity and success) in The Death of a Salesman. Short Talk 10: The Critique of Exploitation and Fanaticism in The Death of a Salesman. Short Talk 11: Responses to Disillusionment in A Doll's House and The Death of a Salesman: Compare Nora Helmer/Kristine Linde and Willy Loman/Charley.

Outside Class: Prepare for mid-term exam.

Session 8: Thurs, Oct 21

In Class: Mid-term examination which will cover The Woman in Black, Last Orders, A Doll's House and The Death of a Salesman. If time permits, we'll begin The Penguin Book of World War Poetry. Background on World War One.

Outside class: Read for next time, Silkin's "Introduction" and poetry by Edward Thomas, Edmund Blunden, Ivor Gurney, Edgell Rickword, Richard Aldington, Ford Madox Ford, Seigfriend Sasson, Wilfred Owen; read as much of Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front as you can. If time permits, see the 1930 Universal film adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front.

Session 9: Thurs, Oct 28

In Class: PLAN FOR #2 IS DUE. Return and discussion of mid-term exam. Short Talk 12: Use of Sensual Imagery for Protest in poems of Edward Thomas. Short Talk 13: Reports on Experience: The poems of Edmund Blunden. Short Talk 14: Strange Hells in the poems of Ivor Gurney, Edgell Rickword, Richard Aldington, Ford Madox Ford.

Outside class. Read the German poems in Silkin's volume; finish All Quiet on the Western Front; begin Greene's The Quiet American.

Session 10: Thurs, Nov 4

In Class: Short Talk 15: Evaluation as Protest in the poems of Siegfried Sassoon. Short Talk 16: Self-education as Protest in the poems of Wilfred Owen. Short Talk 17: Reports on Experience in German poetry (Georg Heym, Georg Trakl, Alfred Lichtenstein, Ernest Stadler, Wilhelm Klemm, August Stramm, Albert Einstein, Anton Schnack,Yvan Goll) and All Quiet on the Western Front. Short Talk 18: The collapse of the old value system in All Quiet on the Western Front.

Outside Class: See the 2001 Intermedia/Mirage/Miramax film adaptation of Greene's The Quiet American, directed by Philip Noyce, screenplay Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkken, with Michael Caine as Fowler. Finish The Quiet American.

Session 11: Thurs, Nov 11

In Class: ESSAY-JOURNAL #2 IS DUE. Short Talk 19: Friendship and the Will to Survive in All Quiet on the Western Front. Short Talk 20: Betrayal in The Quiet American. Short Talk 21: Living on "the dangerous edge of things" in The Quiet American.

Outside Class: Read Nasifi's Reading Lolita in Teheran, Parts One and Two; the women poets in Silkin's volume.

Session 12: Thurs, Nov 18

In Class. Return and discussion of Essay-Journal #2. Short 22: Compare the different faces of war (the way war is fought, who are the victims, what cruelties are perpetrated) in All Quiet on the Western Front and The Quiet American. Short Talk 23: Nafisi and her students read Nabokov (Part One of Reading Lolita in Teheran). Short Talk 24: Nafisi and her students read Gatsby (Part Two of Reading Lolita in Teheran).

Outside class: Read Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Teheran, Parts Three and Four Nafisi and begin Heat and Dust. If possible, see the 1983 Merchant Ivory film adaptation Jhabvala's Heat and Dust, directed by James Ivory, screenplay Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, with Julie Christie as Anne.

Session 13: Thurs, Dec 2

In Class: PLAN FOR #3 IS DUE. Short Talk 25: Woman's point of view on war among women poets in Silkin's volume and Reading Lolita in Teheran. Short Talk 26: Nafisi and her students read James (Part Three of Reading Lolita in Teheran). Short Talk 27: Nafisi and her students read Austen (Part Four of Reading Lolita in Teheran).

Outside Class: Finish Heat and Dust.

Session 14: Thurs, Dec 9

In class: Short talk 28: Defiance of Female stereotypes (myths of femininity) in Heat and Dust. Short Talk 29: Harry and Ritu (Inder Lal's wife): Powerlessness in Heat and Dust. Short Talk 30: The contrast between UK/US/"Western" and Iraqi/Indian values in Reading Lolita in Teheran and Heat and Dust. Review for final exam.

Outside Class: Write Essay-Journal #3 and prepare for final exam.

Week 15: Thurs, Dec 16

Final Examination which will cover Jon Silkin's Penguin Book of World War One Poetry, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Quiet American, Reading Lolita in Teheran and Heat and Dust. JOURNAL-ESSAY #3 IS DUE.

Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 25 August 2004