Syllabus for Spring 2005: Advanced Writing: On the Humanities

English 302:H14: Tues/Thurs, 9:00-10:15 am, Robinson A246

Dr Ellen Moody. My homepage address:; for Course Materials, go to e/emcourse.htm. My preferred email address is:

Advanced Writing: On the Humanities

This is an advanced writing course. In some ways it may remind you of the introductory college freshmen writing course you took a few semesters ago. We will talk about how to write plainly and clearly, about the ways of constructing arguments, about how to synthesize materials to compose a research paper, about punctuation, documentation -- about, in short, everything we can think of having to do with writing essays; and we will read and discuss full- length books, stories, and essays.

The course will, however, differ from the introductory course in that you will be asked to use these skills to write about imaginative literature and film in such a way as to cover all the aspects of the arts in our culture: words, music, pictures, landscape, architectural spaces. We will delve into how artists transform their experiences into art and how readers and viewers respond. We will deal with "high" and serious art and pop culture. We are looking to see how our memories of books, films, music, pictures, buildings and landscapes to0 have helped to make us what we are today. Since there is no specific art prerequisite for this course, our perspective and discussions cannot be specialized or narrowly-focused on any art form: you do not have to have taken a film study course to do well here. The background knowledge assumed is that of the typical generally-educated reader who has attained Junior status in a senior college.

Required Texts (in the order you will need them)

Required Films:

Optional Books

Optional or Relevant Films

Required Writing:

You are required to write three essays; to pass an open-book midterm exam and open-book final exam (which will take the form of writing essays in class), and to give one short talk. There will also be one take-home test. There will be no quizzes or closed book exams.

First Essay (#1)

Writing About Art or Music. You have a number of choices. You can write about 1) the use of art in E. L. Carr's A Month in the Country; 2) the use of music in Ann Patchett's Bel Canto; or 3) the use of music in Jane Campion's 1993 film The Piano (an Australian Film production). If you chose the third option, you must read the screenplay (on reserve or online) and some assigned material in the book of essays on the film I have put on reserve. Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages.

Second Essay (#2)

Writing about Plays or Film. You can do a comparison of 1) Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons with the Fred Zinnemann's 1966 film (Highland); 2) a comparison of Graham Swift's Last Orders with Fred Schepisi's 2001 film (Columbia Tristar); or 3) a comparison of Walter van Tilburg Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident with William Wellman's 1943 film (20th Century Fox).

Third Essay (#3)

In Search of Lost Time

Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages. For this one you can go well over the limit if you want to (say 7 pages).

This is to be a researched essay and may be regarded as "the term project." I ask you to find four sources beyond your chosen book. A list of books about children's literature is provided. Bobbie Ann Mason (The Girl Sleuth) is about popular series books for girls; you can use Mason as one of your sources if you find her book relevant..

The essay will include:

An Annotated Bibliography: As part of the researched essay, you will be asked to hand in an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography provides short summaries and evaluations of the books and essays used in a research paper. The skill of synopsis will be reviewed. Models will be provided. I provide a full bibliography of children's literature too.

An Abstract: You will also be asked to hand in an abstract of your own essay. We will in class learn to and practice the art of writing abstracts, of summarising, paraphrasing, and writing synopses.

The Short Talk

Talk is primary and writing secondary. I believe everyone can learn to write more clearly and enjoy writing more if he or she would only learn to talk on paper, to use the real language he or she might use in the classroom or any other natural situation which demands a certain coherence. Much of the advice you will find in John Trimble's Writing With Style is based on this belief. A good writer must learn to think of his material as something he is really communicating to someone else. The success of a communication in whatever media is measured not only by how the reader or listener receives it, but by whether the reader or listener truly understands and can apply to themselves what the artist has to say.

Thus, each student will be asked to prepare a coherent seven to fifteen minute talk for classroom presentation on the readings from one of our books which is due the day he or she is scheduled to talk upon. The talks will begin the third week of the semester. Fundamentally what you must do is invent a clear instrumental thesis-statement and develop it coherently and concretely.

The whole class will listen and try to respond; their response will tell the student whether he or she has made him or herself clear; the ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened when he or she or another student talked will (it is hoped) teach everyone something about the basis of writing -- again, clear thinking in clear language which comes naturally to the speaker-writer.

Each student is asked to hand in an outline or cards (hand-written or typed) which he or she used to talk from, and I will return this material with the grade for the talk in the following session.

Open Book In-Class Writing

For the midterm, you will be asked to write about the texts and films we've covered up to that point which should be A Month in the Country, Bel Canto, The Piano (screenplay and film), and A Man for All Seasons (play and film).. For the final you will be asked to write about the texts and films we've covered up after the midterm: Last Orders (novel and film), The OxBow Incident (novel and film), Reading Lolita in Teheran and The Girl Sleuth. The subject matter of the tests will be organized so that before the course is over each student will have been required to write on all the texts and films we have read or seen over the term. So although these will be open-book tests (you may bring notes, papers, first drafts) and there will be no quizzes, you will be nontheless required to read and see everything assigned and be asked to write about every text or film at some point.

There is a specific format for writing reviews of books and films which we will learn about. You will have the choice of writing in the review format or following the literary essay with guidelines format. We will discuss the various approaches taken towards literary works and how a good literary or filmic review usually includes some or all of the following points:

  1. the book's context and intended audience;
  2. its thesis or theses;
  3. your evaluative statement about this thesis and the book's content;
  4. a synopsis or summary of its contents;
  5. an analysis of the book to reveal how the author's background or biases help or hinder the author and the quality of the evidence;
  6. an analysis of the literary techniques and conventions the text uses.

Obviously the midterm and final will test whether you have read all the assigned books with care, watched all the assigned films with sophisticated criteria in mind, and to reward those who attended class and listened to the short talks. But they are not "jump-through the hoop" exercises in which I try to catch you in literal mistakes. They are also intended as opportunities for learning: I hope they will provide practice on how to select, elaborate upon and judge books and films.

One Take-Home Test

The answers required will not be a single word, but you should not have to write more than a short paragraph to answer each. I will hand it out shortly before the first book review is due. You write the answers at home and bring them in to class on the day of the midterm exam. I will hand out two 10 question short answer test which you can answer at home. You type the answers at home and bring them in to class on the day the test is due.

Reading and Class Attendance:

Assumptions behind this course : I think that 1) something is to be gained by coming to class, and that we all can learn a great deal from one another; 2) good writing can be discussed in simple words, and exemplified, learned, practiced, and improved through imitation of models; 3) people who write well are often people who read a lot; and 4) the only way to improve one's writing is by much practice over a long period of time; so:

  1. Classwork : I want everyone to attend class faithfully, to read all the books, and to participate in class discussions. I ask that you limit your unexcused absences to a minimum; I regard weeks of absence as one basis for a failing grade.
  2. Writing Assignments: I have allowed ample time for 1) writing and revision of each essay; for 2) discussion of student models to help you see what is expected and give you ideas on how to go about a particular task; and for 3) the class as a single group to listen to, analyse and comment on one or more of the essays someone in the class has written. I will try my best to write comments on your essays which can help you how better to organize your thoughts, correct your grammar, and write lucidly and engagingly.


By the end of the term there should be eight grades for each student on my roster. These I will average together to form the final grade. I should have three grades for the three essays, one for the short talk, one for the midterm and one for the final, one for the short talk. All shorter assignments (the plans I ask for) and the test on Trimble will be averaged together to form an eighth grade. If you hand your essay in late, the grade will be pulled down one element for every session, it is late. You must give your talk on the day cited on the short talk schedule so as to ensure only one person will talk on a given day. If you do not give your talk, you must take an F and that will be factored into your final grade.

For the final grade for the course I take into account 1) your attendance record; 2) your participation in class; and 3) if you came for help if you needed it in planning the essay, thinking up a perspective; organizing and revising it. A teacher can tell when an essay or short talks is done with care, is something really thought about, something for which a genuine self- educational effort was made. I respect serious hard work and reward it when I see it. I will also reward someone whose work improves.

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 that you have plagiarized, 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 strongly preferred address is Please do not write to me at I rarely look at that address and cannot take attachments through it. You can write me 24 hours a day at; 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 (993-1176) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. However, remember that I am on campus only on Tuesdays 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 securest 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 Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:20-2:50 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


Week 1: Tues/Thurs, Jan 25th/27th

In Class: Course introduction: brief explanation of syllabus. Short talks and Essay #1 outlined. Review of John Trimble's book and how to write about film, art, music.

Outside Class:

For Thursday session, read Trimble, Writing with Style, Chs 1- 6; those who have Corrigan, read Chs 1-2.

Read for next week E. L. Carr's A Month in the Country, Trimble, Writing with Style , Chs 4-8, and Corrigan, A Short Guide for Writing about Film, Ch 3. . Be prepared to be assigned one talk for the term from one of the 6 books (see Short Talk schedules for choices and dates).

Week 2: Tues/Thurs, Feb 1st/3rd

In Class: Short Talks Given Out. E. L Carr's A Month in the Country. In class writing. Excerpts from film will be shown. We'll discuss writing and do a small piece of in-class writing.

Outside Class: For Tuesday, 2/8: read as much as you can of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. Read the rest of Trimble, Chs 9-13, read, print out and bring to class the students models on art and music: Bernini's Apollo and Daphne; The Red Fox Inn: Middleburg, Virginia; Plainsong; and Melissa Etheride's "Royal Station 4/16.

Week 3: Tues/Thurs, Feb 8th/10th

In Class: The class discusses Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, the models and the rest of Trimble.

Tues, 2/8: Short Talk 1: Ruin and Restoration: The Painting and Crumbling Church in A Month in the Country; Short Talk 2: Memory and History: Archeaology and the Landscape in A Month in the Country.

Thurs, 2/10: Short Talk 3: Religion, Exclusion and Community in A Month in the Country

Outside class: Finish Bel Canto. Read online screenplay of The Piano or go to Johnson Center and read copy on reserve.

Week 4: Tues/Thurs, Feb 15th/17th

In Class: PLAN FOR #1 DUE on Thursday session. The class watches The Piano.

Tues, 2/15: The class is devoted to watching the film, The Piano.

Thurs, 2/17: Short Talk 4: Solace, Career, or Political Networking: Music in Bel Canto. The class finishes watching The Piano.

Outside Class: Read Corrigan, Chs 4-5; read all of Bolt's A Man for All Seasons.

Week 5: Tues/Thurs, Feb 22nd/24th

In Class: We begin our discussion of plays versus films and the tragedy, A Man for all Seasons.

Tues, 2/22: Short Talk 5: Personal Presentation of Politics and "Terrorists" in Bel Canto; Short Talk 6: Turning a Newstory into a Novel in Bel Canto.

Thurs, 2/24: Short Talk 8: Campion's The Piano as a Feminist or Woman-Centered Tale of Colonialism; Short Talk 9: Music as Self-expression, Sexuality and Class Prestige in The Piano.

Outside Class: Write Essay #1 due 3/1; print out, read and bring to class Guidelines for writing a Literary Essay and two student models: on R. L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Martin's Mary Reilly and Anthony Trollope's novel, An Eye for an Eye; read Corrigan, Ch 6.

Week 6: Tues/Thurs, Mar 1st/3rd

In class: ESSAY #1 is DUE for the Tuesday session.

Tues, 3/1: The class watches as much of A Man for All Seasons as we can.

Thurs, 3/3: Short Talk 11: A Man for All Seasons as a political tragedy. The class finishes watching A Man for All Seasons. Review of guidelines and models.

Outside class: Prepare for midterm. Read as much of Clarke's Ox-Bow Incident as you can.

Week 7: Tues/Thurs, Mar 8th/10th

In Class:

Tues, 3/8: Short Talk 12: Characters Contrasted and Compared in A Man for All Seasons: The Stance taken towards Integrity in More, Rich, Cromwell, Norfolk and Alice; Short Talk 13: The Importance of the Acting Performances in The Piano and A Man for all Seasons. I will introduce Essay #3.

Thurs, 3/10: In class midterm. it will cover Carr's A Month in the Country, Patchett's Bel Canto, Campion's The Piano (film and screenplay), and Bolt's A Man for All Seasons (play and Zinnemann's film). I will hand out the take-home test on Trimble; it's due 3/22.

Outside Class: Finish Clarke's Ox-Bow Incident and read as much of Graham Swift's Last Orders. See the Fred Schepisi 2001 film of Last Orders.

Spring Break

Week 8: Tues/Thurs, Mar 22nd/24th

In Class: Plan for #2 due 3/24

Tues, 3/22: Short Talks 14: The Connection of Social Pressure to Lynching in The Ox-Bow Incident, the novel; Short Talk 15: The Connections between Bullying, Belonging to a Community, and Evil in The Ox-Bow Incident.

Thurs, 3/24: Short Talk 15: Manliness in The OxBow Incident. The class begins to watch Schepisi's film, Last Orders

Outside Class: Finish reading Swift's Last Orders; read Mason's The Girl Sleuth, Chs 1-3. Browse both the bibliography for children's literature and list of children's books. Plan for #2 and Name of book and 2 sources for it for Essay #3 due 3/29.

Week 9: Tues/Thurs, Mar 29th/31st

In Class: PLAN FOR #2 is due 3/29; also Name of book and 2 sources for Essay #3.

Tues, 3/29: Short Talk 16: Myths of Successful Masculinity (Jobs and Children) in the novel, Last Orders. The class will finish watching the film, Last Orders.

Thurs, 3/31: Short Talk 17: Women's Fates in the novel, Last Orders: Amy, Mandy and Susie. Short talk 18: Ensemble casts in The Ox-Bow Incident and Last Orders (films and/or novels).

Outside Class: Read Mason's The Girl Sleuth, Chs 4-6 for the coming week.

Week 10: Tues/Thurs, Apr 5th/7th

In Class: We begin the last part of the term's work: how we read and see in films influences our lives and helps shape our values; children's literature in the US.

Tues, 4/5: We may see excerpts from Wellman's film, The Ox-Bow Incident; Gender Faultlines in Literature and Life.

Thurs, 4/7: Children's Literature; Memory and Self. Some background for Reading Lolita in Teheran. Short Talk 19: Racism and Male and Female Stereotypes in Children's Books (Chapters 1-3 in The Girl Sleuth

Outside Class: Write Essay #2, read, print out and bring to class the student models for Essay #3: "On Rereading The Wind in the Willows", "Go Ask Alice: A Believable Diary About Drug Use", "A Rediscovery of the Velveteen Rabbit", "E. B. White and Charlotte's Web, "A Memory to Live By: Where the Red Fern Grows", and the Instructions for how to write an abstract.

Week 11: Tues/Thurs, Apr 12th/14th

In Class: ESSAY #2 IS DUE for Tues, 4/12.

Tues, 4/12: We will go over models; how to write an annotated bibliography; how to compose an abstract. I will provide some background about the Iran/Iraq war, Iraqi revolution, and four different authors in Reading Lolita in Teheran

Thurs, 4/14: Short Talk 20: A Falsifying or Unreal Glamor Ideal: Nancy Drew (as described and analyzed by Mason); Short Talk 21: Alternative Girl Sleuths: Judy Bolton, Trixie Beldon, Cherry Ames, Vicki Bar (as described and analyzed by Mason)

Outside Class: Read Reading Lolita in Teheran, Parts One and Two; print out and do Practice 1 for the Abstract and bring to class

Week 12: Tues/Thurs, Apr 19th/21st

In Class:

Tues, 4/19: Short Talk 22: Lolita as a book about male power and possessing a woman in the context of Nafisi's "cell" of forbidden readers (Part One of Reading Lolita; Short Talk 23: The Great Gatsby as a book about materalism and utter unconcern for the powerless (Part Two of Reading Lolita).

Thurs, 4/21: Short Talk 24: The Nobility and Dangers of Ignoring Social Mores in James in the context of Nafisi's "cell" of forbidden reading (Part Three in Reading Lolita). We will go over Abstract 1

Outside Class: Write Plan for #3. Print out and do Practice II for Abstracts

Week 13: Tues/Thurs, Apr 26th/28th

In Class: Plan for #3 due 4/26.

Tues, 4/26: Short Talk 25: Parallels between Austen's novels and Nafisi's girls (Part Four of Reading Lolita in Teheran. The class will go over Abstract 2.

Thurs, 4/28: Short Talk 25: The autobiographical and biographical stories in Reading Lolita: Torture, State Terrorism and the Centrality of Marriage in people's lives

Outside Class: You should be working on Essay #3. Prepare to give 2-3 minute presentation on the progress of your research paper. Print out, read and bring to class two more student models for writing about literature: on Three Anglo-Saxon Poems and Three Ghost Stories.

Week 14: Tues/Thurs, May 3rd/5th

In Class:

Tues, 3/3: We will see excerpts from and discuss a film adaptation of one of the novels Nafisi discusses: Peter Bogdanovich's 1974 adaptation of Daisy Miller. We will discuss what films cannot do and limitations of books. Each member of the class reports his or her progress on Essay #3.

Thurs, 3/5: Review for final.

Outside Class: Write Essay #3 which should be prefaced with an abstract and include an annotated bibliography of 4 sources. Prepare to write two in-class esssays.

Week 15, The Final

Section 302.H14: The day, time and place of the final: Thurs, May 17th, 7:30-10:15 am, Robinson A246.

Bring with you printed out Research Essay #3 (it should have an abstract and annotated bibliography). In class writing of final. It will cover Clarke's novel, The Ox-Bow Incident and Wellman's film, The Ox-Bow Incident, Swift's novel, Last Orders and Schepisi's film, Last Order, Mason's The Girl Sleuth, and Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Teheran.

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 16 January 2005