LIT 524: Romanticism and Readers
Derek Furr, Bard College MAT Program
- What is the role of the reader in making meaning of a text?
- How do the material qualities and social contexts of poetry and fiction influence meaning and interpretation?
- When and why do literary works reference each other?
The essential questions of this course have been asked by a wide variety of literary scholars over the past thirty years, scholars as different from one another as Julia Kristeva, Jerome McGann, and Stanley Fish. All have been concerned, however, with the nature of literary texts and with how readers are implicated in the meaning of things like poems and novels.
In this course, we will bring reader and textual theory to bear on poetry and fiction of the British Romantic period. We will consider the paratexts of Romantic period literature and how they affect our readings. We will pay close attention to what Romantic era readers said about their literature and compare their perspectives to those of our contemporaries. We will bring the intertextual nature of literary texts to the forefront by examining how novels of the period allude to, integrate, and gloss poetry; we will sometimes follow these intertextual trails outside of the Romantic period proper and read the texts that characters and writers recommend. Finally, as readers, we will construct an anthology of poetry and our readings of it.
Weekly Reading Assignments
Core readings for the course are listed on the schedule. In addition to these, as the schedule indicates, there are readings that arise from the various research projects described below. Perhaps the most unorthodox text for the class is the "Romanticism and Readers" anthology, which you will in part be responsible for constructing.
Poetry Collection and Commentary
As indicated on the class schedule, each of you will be responsible for collecting poems from the novels we're studying in the class. We will practice this together with Frankenstein before you begin doing it on your own. In collecting a poem, you are responsible for providing:
- The full text or relevant excerpt of the poem, taken from a reliable source: If, for example, you decide to work with Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," referenced in Frankenstein, you should bring in a reliable copy of the full poem; if you choose to work with Paradise Lost, please do not copy the epic. Use your good judgment and justify the excerpt you've chosen. A note on "reliable"—essentially, don't just grab the poem off of the internet. Know the edition of the poem that you've copied. Use sources that have been critically edited. Include bibliographical source information about your poem.
- Commentary on the poem: The commentary is your reflection on the role the poem plays in the novel. When applicable, you should consider any significant variants of the poem—as for example when a novelist changes the words of a poem or chooses among more variants of the poem. A commentary should be short but substantive—400-600 thoughtfully chosen words. So you are not trying to be exhaustive—choose what's important and discuss it.
Note that for Frankenstein and either The Monk or Jane Eyre, you will have free choice of poetry; for Ivanhoe and Persuasion, I will assign specific poems. You must write commentaries for either Ivanhoe or Persuasion, but not both. In sum, by the end of the term, you will have written three commentaries, two on poems of your own choice, one on either the Ivanhoe or Persuasion texts (see schedule for specifics.)
Poems and successful commentaries will be collected in the Romanticism and Readers anthology, which will always exist—ever expanding—in hard copy on Reserve, and will (when the technology is sufficient) also be available on Electronic Reserve under our course heading.
Close Encounters Group Project
Before the ninth week of class, you will choose between two novels—Matthew Lewis's The Monk and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre—and join a group of readers to carry out discussions, collect and write a commentary on the book's poetry, and create a "close encounter" text.
To prepare for the discussions, you should maintain a double-entry journal as you read the book. Make a two-column page. As you read, use the left column to record page numbers and excerpts of text; use the right to jot down your thoughts. For the purposes of this assignment, you should pay special attention to (1) moments in the text that reminded you of another text you've read, in this course or elsewhere, and (2) events, characters, language, etc. that surprised or puzzled you. The journal will not be graded, but will be a prerequisite for your joining the group discussion, which will of course be essential to your participating in the group project.
In the course of your book discussion, your group will determine which intertextual trails it would like to follow in order to contribute to the Romanticism and Readers anthology. Each group member should follow one; two members may share the same path, but each should turn in her own commentary.
Finally, your group will create a set of "new" texts by writing together two or more poems/novel scenes we've read in the course. This "Close Encounters" exercise will be described in more detail in class nine.
Responding To Readers
In addition to the three short commentaries, you will write three longer (800-1000 word) responses to readers of the texts from this semester. One of your responses must consider a 19th century critique, one a 20th century critique, and one a commentary written by a peer and "published" in the Romanticism and Readers anthology. For the 19th and 20th century criticism, you may use texts from the syllabus or research other reviews/articles; I'm happy to provide guidance. The responses may take any of several forms—dialogue, essay, letter—but the writing should be carefully considered and polished.
Attendance and Late Work
Attendance is expected and late work problematic. Reasons are thoroughly outlined in the student handbook, but the bottom line is simple: time is short and the schedule is full.
A Note on Grades
I encourage you to submit drafts or to schedule meetings to confer about your work. Any graded work from the course can be revised if you first see me about it and adhere to the deadlines we agree upon.
The average of all your individual work counts for 85% of your grade, the group work 15%, with your diligence and engagement as a course participant as an important ballast. All written work for the course will be assessed on the basis of content and composition, according to the following general criteria:
A: Thoughtful, provocative and well-written.
B: Has most, but not all, of the "A" qualities. Needs a little more thought, imagination, and/or polish.
C: Competent. Ideas and writing are pedestrian but complete.
I will provide written feedback on all of your work and strongly encourage you to schedule a visit with me to talk about any course (or literature or MAT-related) matter.
Required Texts (all on Reserve)
Austen, Jane. Persuasion. Ed. Janet Todd and Antje Blank. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre. Ed. Margaret Smith. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Lewis, Matthew. The Monk. Ed. Christopher MacLachlan. New York: Penguin, 1998.
Scott, Walter. Ivanhoe. Ed. A.N. Wilson. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 1996.
Note: All additional poetry and critical readings listed on the schedule are held on Electronic Reserve, and in the Romanticism and Readers anthology, on reserve in the library.
Note: All texts (besides novels) are on electronic reserve and in the Romanticism and Readers anthology on regular reserve, unless otherwise specified.
Coleridge, two versions of "Rime"; Southey's review of Lyrical Ballads; Jerome McGann, "The Ancient Mariner: The Meaning of the Meanings"
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, vol.1-2; Milton, Paradise Lost Book X; Julia Kristeva, from Revolution in Poetic Language
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, vol. 3, and all 19th century responses in the Norton edition; Percy Shelley, "Mont Blanc" and select Frankenstein poetry from your collecting (read in class)
Due—First poetry collection and commentary
Jane Austen, Persuasion, vol.1; Byron, "The Giaour" or Scott, "Marmion"
Austen, Persuasion, vol. 2; Walter Scott, Review of Emma; Poovey, excerpt from The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer; Gilbert and Gubar, excerpt from The Madwoman in the Attic
Due—Second poetry commentary (on either Scott or Byron)
Scott, Ivanhoe; excerpts from Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice; review of Ivanhoe from Eclectic Review (June 1820)
Due—Third poetry commentary (on Ivanhoe and Shakespeare)
John Keats, "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer," excerpt from "Endymion," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," two versions of "La Belle Dame," "Ode to Psyche," and "To Autumn," three contemporary reviews of "Endymion" at http://englishhistory.net/keats/critical.html; Marjorie Levinson, excerpt from Keats' Life of Allegory; Helen Vendler, excerpt from The Odes of John Keats
Due—First "Responding to Readers" paper
Felicia Hemans, all poems and reviews in Romanticism and Readers anthology; Wolfson, from introduction to Selected Poems; Anne Mack et al "Literary History, Romanticism, and Felicia Hemans" (available from EBSCO in MLQ 54.2 [June 1993], 215-35).
Due—Second "Responding to Readers" paper
Choice between Monk or Jane Eyre; in class, your group will set an additional meeting time to prepare for next week.
Due—Double-entry journals on novel; fourth poetry collection and commentary
All Monk and Jane Eyre poems; Gilbert and Gubar, excerpt from Madwoman (Jane Eyre groups only); choice of articles from Romanticism on the Net 8 (http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/1997/v/n8/index.html Monk groups only)
Due: Performance of "Close Encounters" texts
**Final "Responding to Readers" paper due by last day of intersession**