This is an introductory survey of English literature from the earliest survivals to the twentieth century. We approach the literature historically, tracing the developments of themes, ideas, and techniques of writing, as well as looking at the long and fascinating history of the language itself.
The course is built around a very solid textbook, England in Literature, part of the "America Reads" series from Scott, Foresman. I will supplement the readings along the way with several novels and plays, and some incidental smaller items to be made available online.
The course attempts to introduce the student as well to the idea of close reading of texts: whereas Western Literature to Dante focuses on extensive reading of a wide range of material, all of it in translation, English Literature is more intensive: it looks at a smaller body of material more closely. In part this is possible because we will be examining most of the texts as they were originally written, with only the occasional minor adjustments for spelling. The Old and Middle English materials (not normally accessible to high school students without considerable specialized language study) are given here in modern translations, but beginning in the Renaissance, texts are as originally written. Throughout the course we try to mold careful and analytical readers, who will consider and ask such questions as:
- What is the structure of the work?
- Why has the author used these particular words, in this particular order?
- How does the author create and use characters?
- How does the author create and use mood and tone?
- How does this work compare with other works in the same tradition? In other traditions?
- Is the author responding to something else in the literary tradition?
- What does the author tell us on purpose?
- What does the author tell us despite his purpose?
- Is the author reacting to contemporary issues?
This is designed to be an independent course, and may be taken on its own without prerequisite. Students who have had either World Literature or Western Literature to Dante first, however, will almost certainly find that they have a better grasp of some of the basic concepts, and also that they are better equipped to deal with the assignments offered through the writing program, which become increasingly complex this year. In addition, they will find that their knowledge of the forms and traditions of ancient literature will help them interpret materials from that period — roughly 1500-1900 — when classical models loomed very large in English education and culture. This course therefore requires less reading than English I, but the level of close attention expected will certainly keep the student challenged.
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