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Gloria Biamonte (see Writing)
John Sheehy (see Writing
Bronwen Tate (see Writing)

Advanced work in literature at Marlboro can take many forms. Readers may study literature from a technical, thematic, historical or theoretical perspective. They may read literature for its philosophical or social content. Those doing Plans with literature as one component may find it their primary interest, with supporting work in history or philosophy or anthropology or biology, or with related work in any of the arts. Or they may find literature itself a supporting context for work in writing or in other fields in the humanities or even in other areas.

Students intending to do graduate work in literature should take a broad historical range of literature courses, at least one course with a strong component of literary theory, and preferably some course or courses that provide historical context. Those working with literature in other languages should ideally acquire at least a reading fluency in those languages; even work with literature in translation should be supported by some work in the relevant language whenever possible.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

Gloria Biamonte

  • African-American literature
  • 19th- and 20th-century American literature
  • Memoirs and autobiographical literature
  • Toni Morrison
  • Popular fiction in America
  • Gothic literature
  • Contemporary novels
  • Photography and narrative
  • Trauma and narrative

John Sheehy

  • American regionalism
  • Southern and Western American literatures
  • African-American literature
  • Native American literature
  • Faulkner
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Emerson, Whitman and Thoreau
  • Comics as art and literature


Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

Readings in the 19th century. We will be looking at issues of social class and gender roles, religious beliefs and attitudes, the rise of the city, the emergence of industrialism. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

A reading of selected novels of Daniel DeFoe, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Thackeray and the Brontes. Discussion will focus on the presentation of women, views of education, the economic and historical context of the time and effects of mechanization. For 3 credits: classroom attendance and the completion of three five-page papers. For 4 credits: the completion of a research project of 15 pages. Topics will be chosen in consultation with instructor. Deadline for completion: November 15th. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

A close reading, in Middle English, of selected tales from the Canterbury Tales, The Book of the Duchesse, and Troilus and Criseyde. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

A reading of selected novels of the tensions in the 19th century, what Hardy calls the “ache of modernism” in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. We will examine the relationships between mechanizations and ethical concerns, gender issues, depictions of the city and the self, beginnings of media control and colonization in the works of Hardy, Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Trollope, Eliot and Conrad. Note: 19th Century Russian Novel will be offered in spring 2012. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

This course will center on the “American Renaissance”—that period between, roughly, 1830 and 1870 that witnessed the burst of intense intellectual and artistic energy that produced some of the most memorable and enduring American literature. We will examine as much of that literature as we can, in a range of genres: slave narratives from Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, essays from Emerson and Thoreau, novels from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others, poetry from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Our goal in examining these works will always be double: on the simplest level, we will be interested in how these writers interpreted and responded to the places and times in which they lived; on a deeper level, though, we will consider how each of these works—and all of them together—attempts to create something we might call now an “American consciousness,” attempts to invent, or re-invent, America. The point of the course is to read as much as we can, more than anything else—to develop a firm understanding of both canonical and non-canonical 19th-century American literature, and to consider how that literature has helped to shape not just the literature that followed it, but the way we think about ourselves as Americans. This will NOT be a writing seminar: it will involve far too much reading for that. Students, though, will be expected to write about what they read on a regular basis, to lead discussions on a rotating basis, and to write a seminar paper at the end. Prerequisite: None, except a love for the written word and at least a liking for American literature.     Introductory | Credits: 4

This course picks up roughly where Apocalyptic Hope leaves off: out of the American Renaissance, into the Gilded Age, the Modernist period, and through the two world wars, tracing the development of the “American” as it faces, often reluctantly and anyway never without a fight, the inevitability of the modern. We will begin with Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—a book Hemingway once famously called the beginning of all American literature; from there we’ll go on to consider the works of writers and poets as various as Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison and others. The point of this course, like that of its sister course, Apocalyptic Hope, is to read as much as we can; to develop as broad an understanding as possible of both canonical and non-canonical 20th-century literature, and to consider how that literature has helped to shape not just the literature that followed it, but who we are in the 21st century. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor; must have passed the writing requirement; Apocalyptic Hope is not a prerequisite, but students who have taken it will have preference     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course will pick up, roughly, where Apocalyptic Hope left off last year: out of the American Renaissance, into the Gilded Age, the Modernist period, and through the two world wars. Beginning with Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we will go on to consider the works of novelists, poets and playwrights as various as Kate Chopin, Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison and Adrienne Rich. In exploring a range of 20th century literature—richly diverse and original, radically experimental—we will consider the writers’ attempts to respond to major social, economic and political events that shaped their lives. NOTE: This course covers the same material as John Sheehy’s What Will Suffice. Though Apocalyptic Hope is not a prerequisite, students who have taken it will be given preference. Prerequisite: Must have passed the Clear Writing Requirement.    Intermediate | Credits: 4

An introduction to such poets as Galway Kinnell, Robert Creeley, Sylvia Plath, A.R. Ammons, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, Alan Dugan, W.S. Merwin, John Berryman, Amy Clampitt, Gary Snyder, James Wright and Adrienne Rich. Class will be devoted to discussion and analysis of poems. Three critical papers. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

An exploration of the presence of Buddhist ideas and practices in poetry, including some reflection on concepts of the mind, nature, contemplation, language and the self. Readings of selected Chinese and Japanese poetry in translation and poetry in English including work by Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, W.S. Merwin, Robert Hass and Mark Strand. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

An examination in some detail of such poets as William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost. Three critical papers. Prerequisite: None     Introductory |
Credits: 4

This course provides introductions to the writings of William Blake, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Charlotte Smith, Felicia Haymans, Mary Shelley and other writers of the Romantic era. We will begin by examining the origins of Romanticism, both on the Continent and in Britain, then discuss how these writers conformed to or deviated from the tenets of Romantic ideology. We will also situate these works in their historical contexts, paying particular attention to the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the British Empire and issues of class and gender. This class will be followed by an introduction to Victorian literature in the spring. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

This survey course provides introductions to the poetry of Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Morris, W.B. Yeats and others. We will also read essays by Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Huxley, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. We will situate these works in their historical contexts, paying particular attention to the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, the notion of the sublime, Darwinian concepts of evolution utilitarianism, the Gothic, Victorian social codes and the rise of the British Empire. Issues of class and gender will also be explored. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

A reading of the history plays of Shakespeare. Focus will be on concepts of authority and kingship. Movies on Fridays when appropriate; supplemental reading in the actual history, Shakespeare’s sources for the plays and biographies of the kings he chose as subjects. Thirty pages of writing. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

Delving into the darkest recesses of the human soul, the gothic novel of the late 18th century was a new sort of narrative that had at its center the potent intersection of sex, violence and the law. Beginning with Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto, 1764) and the first writers in the “school of terror” (Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis), we will consider how these authors used Gothic excesses—all types of villainous acts (forced marriages, imprisonment, the desecration of corpses) committed by all sorts of villainous characters (incestuous parents, monks in league with the devil, insane scientists)—to explore the worlds of sexual and social transgressions. We will then move to the19th century transformations of the genre (Shelley, Poe, Stoker, James, Stevenson), and close with the legacy of the gothic in the 20th and 21st century (Faulkner, Borges, Rushdie, Morrison). Whether set in a castle, a city or a sleepy village house, gothic literature pushes at the boundaries of what is known and what can be known, asking whether we can separate pain from pleasure, reason from unreason, mind from spirit, self from other, justice from corruption, punishment from tyranny. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Our focus will be on the presentation of the city in selected works of literature. Beginning with the city of Dante’s Inferno we will examine the city as structuring device in Crime and Punishment, Dickens’ Little Dorritt, Our Mutual Friend and Hard Times, and in Balzac’s Le Pere Goriot. We will end the semester by looking at Shakespearean plays where the pastoral retreat of the countryside is juxtaposed to the world of court and social responsibility. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

D.H. Lawrence describes the time period of the First World War as a “tragic age.” In this course we will look at that event, making an attempt to analyze some aspects of the social context which allowed it to occur. We will consider the effects of that war on language, on social thought, on institutions. Texts will include D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Eckstein’s The Rites of Spring, Fussel’s The Great War in Modern Memory, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway and selections from poets with a focus on Wilfred Owen. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Selected works from Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty. Prerequisite: None     Multi-Level | Credits: 4

A reading of Faulkner’s Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion. Focus will be on Faulkner’s use of metaphor, use of pastoral and narrative structure. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 2

The first six weeks, we will read Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, Anna Karenina and War and Peace. The last six weeks, we will read Crime and Punishment, selected short stories, The Demons and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: Variable

This introductory survey course examines the work of postwar British and Irish poets, including Keith Douglas, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon, Eavan Boland, Medh McGukian and Ciaran Carson. We will situate the poems in their historical and cultural contexts, then focus on their formal structure. Issues to consider include WWII, the “movement,” feminism and the Northern Ireland “troubles.” By the end of the course, you should be able to analyze poetry with confidence; you should also have a good understanding of the political and aesthetic debates that have helped shape modern poetry in Britain and Ireland. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

“Well-behaved women rarely make history” has become a popular feminist mantra. In this course, we will read fiction, poetry and memoirs by women whose characters push against societal norms. As we read and discuss these texts, we will consider the following questions: To what extent is the label of ‘madness' a construct used to subdue or ostracize independent, aggressive and rebellious women? In what ways do women writers re-appropriate female madness to critique sexism in their own society? How do ‘mad' characters deliver powerful and subversive messages? How does the media portray women writers who have experienced mental illness? And lastly, how do women writers use narrative style or poetic form to explore madness innovatively? Texts include The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830-1980, The Yellow Wallpaper, Wide Sargasso Sea, Mrs. Dalloway, Housekeeping, The Bell Jar, Girl, Interrupted, A Short History of Women, poetry by Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Eavan Boland and Medbh McGuckian and selections from The Madwoman in the Attic. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

This course will explore the work of three of the 20th century’s most important modernist writers: Yeats, Eliot and Woolf. We will focus intensively on these writers’ work, which we will read closely and slowly, and ask how each helped forge the modernist aesthetic. Students will also gain a broad understanding of literary culture (particularly Bloomsbury) in late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain and Ireland. Prerequisite: One previous literature class or permission of professor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

This is the first half of a year-long course, reading and discussing some of the major works of Western culture from Homer to Shakespeare. Heavy reading schedule, regular discussions, papers required. Designed as a course for sophomores or juniors. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 6

This is the second half of a year-long course, reading and discussion of the major works of Western culture from Old Testament to Shakespeare. Heavy reading schedule, regular discussions, papers required. Prerequisite: Seminar in Religion, Literature and Philosophy I     Intermediate | Credits: 6

Great novels of the 20th century: Lawrence, Woolf, Thomas Mann, Faulkner, Camus, Bulgakov, Babel, Calvino, Segald and Toni Morrison. Prerequisite: None     Multi-Level | Credits: 4

Selected readings from the tragedies of Shakespeare, with an emphasis on King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Coriolanus. An exploration of the themes of language, kingship and ethical choice. Prerequisite: None Multi-Level | Credits: 4

This class provides an introduction to the colonial and postcolonial literature of Africa, India and the Caribbean. We will read these literatures in relation to one another in order to establish a dialogue between the colonizer and the colonized, and then ask ourselves the following questions: How did European and American writers in Africa, India and the Caribbean use the native population to define themselves? In what ways did they influence modern conceptions of race? How did African, Indian and Caribbean writers “write back” as they challenged these colonial texts and the concepts they espoused? Novels we will examine in dialogue include Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Coetzee’s Foe, Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Kincaid’s Annie John, Walcott’s Collected Poems, Forster’s A Passage to India, Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Roy’s The God of Small Things and, finally, Durrell’s Justine and Mahfouz’s Children of the Alley. We will also read parts of Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, Edward Said’s Orientalism and David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire. Prerequisite: At least one literature class or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: Variable

“‘The proper stuff of fiction’ does not exist,” wrote Virginia Woolf in 1925. “Everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss.” The novelists we will be reading in this course—a rather open-ended exploration of the contemporary British novel from the 1980s to the present—would agree with Woolf. In exploring a range of richly diverse and original novels, we will consider the writers’ attempts to respond to the major social, economic and political events that shaped their lives: the end of empire; immigration from the former colonies; radical changes in racial and sexual politics; and the increasingly postmodern and postcolonial
 experience of British culture. Authors may include: Doris Lessing, Julian Barnes, Caryl Phillips, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Pat Barker, Graham Swift, Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter, A.S. Byatt, Zadie Smith. Prerequisite: One previous literature course     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Weekly discussions about the major critical texts concerning 20th-century poetry. Authors include W.B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sigmund Freud, Ezra Pound, Tristan Tzara, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Vladimir Mayakovsky, I.A. Richards, William Empson, F.R. Leavis, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Gertrude Stein, Marina Tsvetaeva, Walter Benjamin, Robert Frost, Paul Valery, Martin Heidegger, Theodor Adorno, Roland Barthes, W.H. Auden, Derek Walcott, Julia Kristeva, Czeslaw Milosz, Helen Vendler and others. Prerequisite: Juniors and seniors on Plan or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

An experiment in the relation of poetry to performance, as something other than text. We will recite and perform poems, critiquing performance. Emphasis will be on oral presentation, but we will also consider poems set to music, graphic presentations of poems, et cetera. Prerequisite: None     Intermediate |
Credits: 3

Beginning with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and ending with Ben Okri’s Songs of Enchantment, we will be reading novels and short stories told from the perspective of a child or young adult. From Huck and Jim’s raft to Azaro’s spirit world to Alyosha’s mesmerizing grandmother, we will explore each child’s mysterious, beautiful and often painful journey into adulthood. Central to our discussion will be a consideration of how each child narrator/protagonist creates a self/constructs an identity—often against enormous personal, societal and cultural obstacles. We will consider how particular cultural moments and pivotal historical events shape these children, and are, in turn, shaped for us, the readers, by the lens of their young eyes. Authors will be chosen from among the following: Mark Twain, Henry James, James Baldwin, Thulani Davis, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, Alice Walker, Ben Okri, Elie Wiesel, Maxine Hong Kingston, Dorothy Alison, Lan Cao, Linda Hogan, Andre Makine, Sandra Cisneros, Richard Rodriquez and Heinz Insu Fenkl. Prerequisite: None     Multi-Level | Credits: 4

A chance to explore three 20th-century masterpieces—Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses—in great detail. Themes include exile, paralysis, nationalism, modernism, race, empire, gender, the Irish Literary Revival and Irish and Jewish identity. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Advanced | Credits: 4

A course for juniors and seniors on Plan. We will critique the writing of Plans in progress, read selections of articles on the authors, and read relevant essays on literary theory. May be taken for variable credits. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Advanced | Credits: 4

A year long course examining signs, memory and meaning in three novels of Marcel Proust. Fall semester: Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove and The Guermantes Way.  Spring Semester: Cities of the Plain, The Captive, The Fugitive and Time Regained.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Reading list consists of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, selected plays and short stories from Chekov, Turgenev’s Sketches From A Hunter’s Notebooks and Fathers and Sons, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Advanced | Credits: 4

It is arguable that Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes have attracted more attention, and from a broader readership, than any other English or American poet of the post-war period. Unfortunately, such attention tends to derive from an interest in the sensational aspects of their relationship rather than an understanding or appreciation of their work. Yet both poets possessed original and startling poetic voices; to consider their work only in light of their biography is both reductive and misguided. Together, then, we will deconstruct the myth of Plath and Hughes as we read their poetry in detail. We will also visit the Sylvia Plath archive at Smith College to view her journals and manuscripts. Prerequisite: At least one literature class or permission of instructor    Advanced | Credits: 4

Selected novels of Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky. Some outside reading in history and biography. Research paper. Prerequisite: Some background in literature     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Blanchot, in The Writing of the Disaster, claims: “It is dark disaster that brings the light.” Through selected works, we will examine the “dark disaster” of the Balkans: the anguish of war, ethic tension and exile, the suffering of the Holocaust and “the machinations of greater power that vie to absorb.” Prerequisite: Permission of instructor    Multi-Level | Credits: 4

Yeats and Eliot are constantly lauded as two of the 20th century’s greatest English-language poets. In this class, students will have the opportunity to discover why. Together we will read the entire body of Yeat’s and Eliot’s poetry, paying close attention to how each poet helped to define the modernist aesthetic. Though we will focus intensively on Yeat’s and Eliot’s work, students will gain a broad understanding of literary culture in late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain and Ireland. No prior knowledge of Yeats or Eliot is required; indeed the class will appeal to anyone interested more generally in modernism, contemporary poetry or Irish history and literature. Prerequisite: At least one literature class or permission of the instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Good Foundation for Plan

Students intending to do a substantial part of their Plan in literature should take the Seminar in Religion, Literature and Philosophy (RLP) during their sophomore year. As soon as they have met the Clear Writing Requirement, they should take more advanced courses in literature, while also establishing a broad range of courses in other fields, preparatory to the concentration that will fit into their Plans. A good foundation for a Plan in literature would include some of the following:

  • History of the English Novel
  • History of the Novel
  • Apocalyptic Hope: The Literature of the American Renaissance
  • What Will Suffice: American Literature from Twain to Ellison
  • For Once, Then, Something: American Literature from Twain to Ellison
  • Contemporary American Poetry
  • Modern American Poetry
  • Romantic Literature
  • Victorian Poetry

Cross-disciplinary Plans may be done, and Plans in women’s studies are especially suitable in the field of literature. Students should be careful, however, to fulfill the prerequisites for the literature Plan. Literature can be a valuable component of a world studies Plan. Students interested in world studies Plans in literature might consider Chinese, Arabic or Spanish language courses.

Sample Tutorial Topics

Gloria Biamonte

  • Slave Narratives and Neo-slave Narratives
  • Jewish Immigrant Literature
  • Spiritual Autobiographies
  • Toni Morrison
  • The Family in Contemporary American Literature
  • The African American Migration Novel
  • Photography and Narrative

John Sheehy

  • Faulkner in Context
  • The Western Novels of Cormac McCarthy
  • Herman Melville and Moby Dick
  • Comic Superheroes and Classical Heroism
  • Topics in African American Literature
  • Norman Maclean, Marilynne Robinson and the Contemporary West
  • American Literature and the High School Curriculum