Advanced Writing: 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 books and essays.

The course will, however, differ from the introductory course in that you will be asked to use these skills we review to write essays about three subject areas in the traditional humanities: visual art, drama, and literature. Our theme will be how an artist transmutes his or her personal experience into painting, prose fiction and non-fiction, and drama, and how a viewer or reader responds to works of art in ways that are rooted in subjective and private experience.

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


Required Films: (the first of which you will be asked to see on your own outside class):

Required Writing:

You are required to write three essays outside class (typed or printed with documentation), and three essays in class on the three kinds of prose narratives we will cover, and to give one short talk.

The First Essay (#1) Visualizing a Picture, Sculpture, or Building in Words for a Reader.

I will ask you to go to a local museum and find a painting or sculpture or building or series of photographs or posters and describe it. You can use previous experiences if you remember it sufficiently clearly (or better yet have goodphotographs of what you saw).

The idea is to to stretch your use of language to convey to the reader in clear exact words what you suggest that reader would see were he (or she) to be standing in front of your object. We will discuss how to construct a piece of prose so as to enable a reader to visualize something.

You can research the life or work of your artist or the kind of picture, sculpture, or building, or the "school" to which your choice belongs; if so, you should document your sources, all quotations, and paraphrases. We will review documentation before this essay is due. Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages.

The Second Essay (#2) Writing About Drama.

I will ask you to write an essay comparing the play of A Man for All Seasons with one of its film productions.

The idea here is to write about the differences between a verbal text and how a staged play works and the techniques of cinematography which include acting, moving pictures of real places, costumes, music. This will work most easily if you compare Bolt's play to Zinnemann's movie (which was based on a screenplay, an adaptation of the play by Bolt for the cinema): Zinnemann's production changes the play around considerably, adds and takes away scenes and characters. However, it can also work well with the Heston production which is very close to the original text, and attempts to present the movie as a staged play. You could ask yourself if it worked. Another option is to see _both_ films and compare them to the text. Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages. The thinking behind this exercise is to get you to talk about music and many of the arts that go into putting a text on the screen. Since so many people today take in "books" through the movies, to explore this aspect of the humanities today is particularly relevant.

The Third Essay (#3) In Search of Lost Time.

This is our "term project." I will ask you early in the semester to find, read, and then write about a favorite book of your own choice from your early adolescence or teenage years (a list of such books to show you the kind of thing I mean is provided--see attachment). You are asked to try to remember what you were when you first read this book and the circumstances of your life; then to try to remember why you liked it; and then, when you read, be aware of how your present reading may differ from that first one. Write an essay on the two different selves reading this book. Our short talks will in fact be "little talking practices" of how to analyze a literary text using short stories; you are then expected to take what we have learned in class and apply it to your favorite book from later childhood. I do not rule out books from earlier childhood, but experience has shown me that a book which relies as much upon words as pictures leads to a more successful essay; it is also easier to remember our later childhood than our very early years. The earliest memories may be vivid, but they are fragmentary and unclear. The idea is to use memory and literary analysis. So Dr Seuss and the Madeleine books are good for this assignment, but very early childhood books, such as Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are will probably not provide you with the material you need to write.

The aim is to search into your memory and self, to enact a group of beliefs; to wit, that people primarily read literature for pleasure, that they take away from it what they bring to it, and that, its value to them is individual. I would like you to chose a book which meant or still means something to you. If you begin with a genuine interest, the labor of analysis and research and all the rest of it may (I hope) be felt as a labor of love and the process be valuable to you in ways beyond learning how to write about books. Length: 4-6 double-spaced typed pages.

The Annotated Bibliography:

As part of this third 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.

An Abstract or Precis:

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 Précis writing, summarizing, 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. Our course Bible, John Trimble's Writing With Style is based on this belief. My "lectures" on writing will be devoted to trying to get everyone to use his or her tongue. A writer must learn to think of his material as something he is communicating to someone else; not something he or she is mumbling to him or herself in the hopeless hope that no-one will actually read it, much less read it aloud. To do a short talk forces the student to experience these assumptions.

Thus, each student will be asked to prepare a coherent seven to fifteen minute talk for classroom presentation on one of our set texts.. The talks are listed in the calendar and you give your talk during the week it is scheduled; the talks will begin the third week of the semester. The idea is to practice inventing a clear thesis-statement which is supported by analysis of the text including concrete details from that text and your own experience.

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.

In-Class Writing:

Three Reviews:

Selecting Good and Evidence and Evaluating a Source. You will be asked to write three reviews, one (A) on the two autobiographical books we will read, Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood and Lawrence Durrell's Prospero's Cell, one (B) on fiction, A. S. Byatt's Sugar and Other Stories, and one (C) on a book of literary criticism, Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth. We will discuss how a good book review usually includes some or all of the following points: the book's thesis (or theses); a synopsis or summary of its contents; the author's background or biases; his evidence; the book's context; its audience; your evaluation of it. We will also review the skills needed for literary analysi

Other Requirements:

Assumptions behind this course: a) I believe something is to be gained by coming to class, and that we all can learn a great deal from one another; b) I believe that good writing can be discussed in simple words, and exemplified, learned, practiced, and improved through imitation of models; c) I believe that the only way to improve one's writing is by much practice over a long period of time; d) I do not believe that writing is a mysterious process whose tenets can be communicated by a sort of osmosis of inspired joint-creativity; e) I think literature and writing courses in the humanities and natural sciences ought not to be centrally about politics; and, f) I have observed that people who write well are people who read a lot; thus:

1. Classwork: I want everyone to attend class faithfully, to read all the books, and to participate in class discussions. If you miss a shorter writing assignment or one of the three in-class essays, you are expected to do the shorter writing assignment at home on the computer or a typewriter and in lieu of the in-class essay in class a 3 page typed or printed book review of the book. I will accept nothing hand-written from home. I ask that you limit your unexcused absences to a minimum; I regard weeks' of absence as one basis for a failing grade. In this class you will find that continual absence is the road to bewilderment.

2. Writing Assignments: I have allowed: a) sufficient time for revision of each essay; b) time for work as a group so we may define, and see how one goes about doing the various kinds of mental jobs and writing that make up a clear essay; c) time for discussing student models to help you see what is expected and give you ideas on how to go about a particular task; and d) time for the class to turn into a sort of "group workshop" to listen to one or more of the essays someone in the class has written. For each of the essays assigned I will give out student models which we will use as "handles" to give everyone ideas and patterns which can help in figuring out in a conscious unfrightened way the kind of organization and thinking which best suits a topic and the tasks one must do before and during writing a particular composition.

I will, in turn, try my best to write comments on your essays which will help you see how better to write clearly and gracefully and how better to organize your thoughts--the latter the hardest task of all and one people can be helped with.

3. Reading: I have also assigned books which are both popular and serious. All were meant to and did sell widely. I have found that student anthologies of essays and literature which have been especially concocted for students considered as a target captive audience are often dull, puzzling, and hard to understand; they are also faddish--they are written in conformance with this year's politically correct stance and what publishers think school boards across the US will not be angered by. To choose materials which are narrowly-conceived for a captive or coterie audience in a college course which is supposed to be about how to write intelligently, gracefully, and successfully (which last means in a way that so attracts readers that they will buy and read your work) seems to me an exercise in futility.

We have two optional books. One is on how to write about the arts; the other is about how to write about literature. If anyone in the class is an art or literature major, I suggest he or she buy the appropriate book. Everyone may buy either or both books. I will be going over the content of these in class, but if you feel owning a book which provides handles on how to write specifically about one of the humanities will be of help to you in the essays here or in other essays in other courses, I hope you will purchase one of them. I have ordered for the whole class a general book which provides handles on how to write good prose essays on any and all subjects. Trimble's Writing with Style will be the first book we read, and we will be making reference to Trimble's outlook and advice throughout the term.


By the end of the term there should be seven 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 written outside class (#s1-3), and three for the essays written in class (Lettered A-C). (The grades for the the annotated bibliography and abstract of Essay #3 will be included in the grade for that paper.) The seventh grade will be for the short talk. All writing assignments and the short talk are due on the day set; if your essay is 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 (which will be handed out by the end of the second or beginning of the third week of the term) so as to ensure only one person will talk on a given day.

Still the average of many students' grades will not fall neatly on a letter, but either be above or below a letter or perhaps just off a letter; that's when I remember and check 1) your attendance record; 2) your participation in class; 3) if you came for help if you needed it (i.e., planning the essay, thinking up a perspective; organizing it, revising it and so on); and, 3) those essays or short talks which showed that you cared, that you really thought about your subject and made an effort to find something out about it or to explore it and to write something intelligent and coherent and complete. While I, of course, will not deny the genius his or her A, I always also take hard work into account and will reward someone who has journeyed from a lesser place to a better one through effort. I also take attendance and class participation into account; it matters to me whether you come and it matters whether you have done the reading or participate or not (see "Assumptions" above).

To talk to me outside class:

Without an appointment:

Write to me by e-mail:; 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.

You can call the phone in the office I use (993-1176) or the English office (993- 1160) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. It is, however, well to remember that I am on campus only 3 days a week from around 9:10 am to 1:30, and the secretaries don't call me; they simply place put the note in my box. Further, 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.

With an appointment:

Private conferences are available by appointment M/W/F from 11:30AM-12:20 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.

Tentative Calendar:

Week 1:

Aug 25th (Mon); 27th (Wed); 29th (Fri):

Course introduction; explanation of syllabus; Importance of thesis statement; how to formulate; Making Inferences and Defining a Good Thesis. Essay #1.

Assignments: 1) Read for Wed, Fri, and following Mon (Sept 3rd): Trimble, Writing with Style, pp ix-xi, Chs 1, 2, 4, 5, (omitting pp 46-50), 6 & 10; Student Models for # 1.

Begin reading and finish for Week 3 (due Sept 8th, Mon): Mary MacCarthy's Memories of A Catholic Girlhood, pp 1-126.

Week 2:

Sept 3rd (Wed); 5th (Fri):

Openers; Middles; Closers; How to Write and Fill a Paragraph; What is a Paragraph; what is a Line of Argument; In-Class Describing a Picture; Short Talks thoroughly explained; Documentation begun.

Assignments: You should be reading the above material from Mary McCarthy's Memories. Your Topic Sheet is Due Sept 12th. You should go to a museum or decide what you object is going to be this weekend.

Week 3:

Sept 8th (Mon); 10th (Wed); 12th (Fri):

Introducing Mary McCarthy and the Relationship between Memory, Imagination, Art, and the Self. Short Talk 1: Mary's Ordeal in Minneapolis and What We Mean When We Use Phrases like Child Abuse (Memories, pp 29-86: "Yonder Peasant, Who Is He?" & "A Tin Butterfly"); Short talk 2: Mary's Problems Over Religious Faith in the Catholic Seminary (Memories, pp 87-126: "The Blackguard" & "C'est le Premier Pas Qui Coute") .

Assignments: Read for Week 4 (due Mon, Sept 15th, Mon): McCarthy, Memories, pp 127-244. You should be working on Essay #1.

Week 4:

Sept 15th (Mon); 17th (Wed); 19th (Fri):

Short Talk 3: Mary's Education: Cliques and Teachers (pp 127-163: "Names" & "The Figures in the Clock"); Short Talk 4: Mary's Grandmother (pp 193-244: last 2 pages of "Yellowstone Park" & "Ask Me No Questions." Introduce subject of travel literature and other forms of autobiography

Assignments: Read for Week 5 (due Mon, Sept 22nd) Lawrence Durrell's Prospero's Cell, pp x-xii, 1-94. Essay #1 is Due on Fri, Sept 26th.

Week 5:

Sept 22nd (Mon); 24th (Wed); 26th (Fri):

Short talk 5: Setting the Scene and Settling In (pp xi- xii, 1-33: ("Introd" through "The Island Saint;" Short Talk 6: Folk Culture and Types (pp 34-59: "Ionian Profiles" & "Karaghiosis: The Laic Hero"); Short Talk 7: Is History Writing Just another Form of Fiction? (pp 59-94: "History and Conjecture."

Assignments: Read for Week 6, Durrell, Prospero's Cell, pp 94-133; for Fri Oct 3rd read Trimble Writing with Style, Chs 8-15; rs.

Week 6:

Sept 29th (Mon); Oct 1st (Wed); 3rd (Fri):

Return and Discussion of #1; Short Talk 8: The Effect of Landscape Upon People or in a Book (pp 95-130: "Landscape with Olive Trees" & "The Vintage Time;" Achieving clarity, the importance of a voice, review of punctuation & documentation & how to avoid plagiarism.

Assignment: For Week 7 (due Oct 6th) Prepare for Mon Oct 6th (Week 7): McCarthy and Durrell, In-Class Book Review A on these two memoir; read Student Models for #2 (to be handed out).

Week 7:

Oct 6th (Mon); 8th (Wed); 10th (Fri).

Essay #2 explained; The Elements of Stories whether dramatized or narrated. In-Class Book Review A written on McCarthy, Memoirs and Durrell, Prospero's Cell.

Assignment: For Week 8 (due Mon, Oct 15th): read ASByatt's "Racine and the Tablecloth," "The July Ghost," (pp 1-56). The Name of the Book you intend to write Your "In Search of Lost Time" upon is due Fri, Oct 17th.

Week 8:

Oct 15th (Wed); 17th (Fri):

Introducing A.S.Byatt. Short talk 9: "Racine and the Tablecloth" (1- 32); Short talk 10: "The July Ghost" (pp pp 39-56);

Assignment: For Week 9 (due Mon, Oct 20th), read Byatt's "The Next Room, " "The Dried Witch," "The Changeling," (pp 85-111, 147-160 ). You should see the movie A Man for All Seasons around this time; and at this time begin to read your chosen book.

Week 9:

Oct 20th (Mon); 22nd (Wed); 24th (Fri):

Short Talk 11: "The Next Room" (pp 57-84); Short Talk 12: "The Dried Witch" (pp 85-111); Short Talk 13: "The Changeling" (pp 147-160);

Assignment: For Week 10, read Byatt's "Sugar" (215-248); Prepare for Wed Oct 29th for an In-Class review or essay B on those of Byatt's Sugar and Other Stories we have read; fby Fri, Oct 31st: have read Bolt's A Man for All Seasons

Week 10:

Oct 27th (Mon); 29th (Wed); 31st (Fri):

Short Talk 14: "Sugar" (pp 215-248); In-class essay B written on Byatt's stories; introductory discussion on A Man for All Seasons.

Assignment: Essay #2 due Mon, Nov 10th; you should be working on it. Most of next week will be devoted to discussing play and movie; for Fri Nov 7th, read Students Models for #3.

Week 11:

Nov 3rd (Mon); 5th (Wed); 7th (Fri):

Short talk 15: The Attitude of the All-Powerful State Towards Law as Embodied in the Character of Henry VIII; Short Talk 16: The Contrast Between Sir Thomas More and Sir Richard Rich and Some Ideas We are to Infer; Short Talk 17: The Role of the Average Person in Conflicts where the Conscience of one person upsets the status quo for others as embodied in the Common Man, Alice & Margaret.

Assignments: Essay #2 is due Mon, Nov 10th; for Wed Nov 12th; read models for Essay #3; for Fri Nov 14th read Bobby Anne Mason's The Girl Sleuth, pp ix-xii, 3-18.

Week 12:

Nov 10th (Mon); 12th (Wed); 14th (Fri):

Essay #3 explained; how to write an annotated bibliography; Return and Discussion of #2; Begin discussing popular children and adolescent literature; Introducing Bobbie Ann Mason.

Assignments: for Week 13 you should read Mason, The Girl Sleuth, pp 19-98; you should begin research on your chosen book.

Week 13:

Nov 17th (Mon); 19th (Wed); 21st (Fri):

Short Talk 18: The Earliest & Still Popular Children's Series Books (pp 19-47: "The Land of Milk and Honey Bunch" & "Bobbsey Bourgeois"); How to Write an Abstract; Short Talk 19: The Queen of Them all: Nancy Drew (pp 48-76: "The Once and Future Prom Queen;" Short Talk 20: In the Footprints of Nancy: Judy Bolton & others (pp 76-98: "The Secret of the Pantom Friends")

Assignments: Read for Week 14: Mason, The Girl Sleuth, pp 99-139; you should be working on Essay #3.

Week 14:

Nov 24th (Mon); 26th (Wed):

Short Talk 21: The Career Girls: Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr & others (pp 99-125: "The Glamour Girls"); we will see the Faerie Tale Theatre Production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Assignment: You should be working on Essay #3; prepare for in-class review C written on Fri, Dec 5th on Mason's The Girl Sleuth

Week 15:

Dec 1st (Mon); 3rd (Wed); 5th (Fri):

Short Talk 22: On the film of Snow White and the Severn Dwarfs; Brief Quiz on film & Day in which everyone gives 1-2 minute description of project for #3; In-class book review C to be written on Mason's The Girl Sleuth

Week 16:

Final, consisting of Essay #3, complete with an abstract of it, and annotated bibliography due for:
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Page Last Updated 1997.