Skip to contentSkip to site navigation

III. Advanced Courses and Intensives

Course descriptions from the English Department to supplement the information in the college catalogue.


Mr. Means              T         3:10-6:10         CLS     

Senior Creative Writing Seminar

Advanced study and practice of various forms of prose and poetry.  This is a year-long course open to students from all majors.  Special Permission.

Writing samples are due before pre-registration.  Check with the English office for the exact date of the deadline.


Ms. Graham           T         10:30-12:30     CLS     

American Literary Realism

(Same as AMST 329) Advanced study of literary realism and naturalism focusing on the historical bent of the great American novel between 1870 and 1910, the first period in American literature to be called modern. What constitutes reality in fiction? How is verisimilitude in characterization and context achieved? What is the relationship of realism to other literary traditions? Authors may include Henry James, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Charles Chesnutt, Frank Norris, William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Thorstein Veblen, Theodore Dreiser, and Willa Cather. 

Topic for 2019a:  American Literary Realism and Naturalism: A Reading of Major American Novels Written Primarily Between 1870 and 1910.  

After the Civil War, the U.S. experienced increasing rates of democracy and literacy, the rapid growth of industrialism and urbanization, an expanding population due to immigration, and a rise in middle-class affluence, which provided a fertile literary environment for writers interested in explaining these rapid shifts in culture. A grand explanatory narrative directs the plot and action of these novels. Authorial intentions give way to a set of laws or principles derived from the dominant ideologies that supported America's maturation into a super-power: Social Darwinism, the Gospel of Efficiency (new Protestant work ethic), or Imperialism (new Manifest Destiny). Surprisingly, the myth of American ‘progress’ is tested and found wanting in almost every book on the syllabus. In seeking scientific objectivity, writers plied a representational strategy focused on ‘hard facts’ and minute detail, which as often as not found the protagonist at odds with his or her environment. Though post-war, the terrain we cover is embattled: race riots, strikes, downward economic mobility, criminality, and homelessness. Shut out of the canon by reason of changing fashions in literary tastes, the less familiar authors on the syllabus belong to the emerging protest novel.  Authors will include: Henry James, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Charles Chesnutt, Frank Norris, William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Thorstein Veblen, Theodore Dreiser, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison.  


Ms. Dunn              W        1:00-3:00         CLS     

Studies in Shakespeare

Advanced study of Shakespeare’s work and its cultural significance in various contexts from his time to today.

Topic for 2019a: After Shakespeare: The Poetics and Politics of Adaptation. Adaptation is one of the primary processes through which the cultural meanings of texts migrate and change. This course explores the theory and practice of Shakespearean adaptation in literature, theatre, film, comics, and popular culture. We’ll address such issues as authenticity and authority, representations of difference, postcolonial appropriation, feminist revision, and cross-cultural translation. We will also reflect critically on our own positions as contemporary readers, viewers, and consumers of Shakespeare. Plays include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest. Each seminar member will complete an original research or creative project.  Some prior study of Shakespeare is recommended. 


Ms. Kane               T         3:10-5:10         CLS     

Twentieth and Twenty-first Century Poetry

The course focuses on Anglophone verse.  Our intensive examination of various formal "modernisms" will include attention to contexts such as internationalism, emigration, visual art, anthropology, eugenics, politics, technology, and literary celebrity. Among the poets we'll study are Yeats, Owen, H. D., Oppen and Moore; Eliot, Frost, McKay, Williams, Stevens, and Bishop.  Later in the semester we will explore recent and contemporary work by poets such as June Jordan, Claudia Rankine, Medbh McGuckian, Anne Carson and Tina Chang.  Assignments will include opportunities for procedural and archival activities, such as recital, examination of material practices, imitation of forms, and redaction.


Mr. Chang           T         7:00-9:00         CLS     

Lost In Translation: Some Other Modern Novels

translate (verb): early 14c., "to remove from one place to another," also "to turn from one language to another," from Old French translater and directly from Latin translatus "carried over," serving as past participle of transferre "to bring over, carry over" (see transfer), from trans "across, beyond" (see trans-) + lātus "borne, carried"

We will read some great modern novels (and short stories) that are (as far as I’m aware) rarely taught at Vassar: Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City, Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H., Anna Seghers’s Transit, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel, Virgina Woolf’s The Waves, some short fiction by Gertrude Stein, Mary Butts, Augusto Monterosso, Robert Walser, Lydia Davis, and others. This selection seeks to ramify our understanding of what modernity meant for diverse human bodies in and around the world. Several of these texts we will read in English translation. Translation “itself” – as praxis, ethical task, stance in being, and means of travel – will frame and dislocate our inquiry. 


Mr. Simpson            M         3:10-6:10         CLS 

English Seminar (Same as AFRS 380)

Topic for 2019a:  Then Whose Negro Are You?  On the Art and Politics of James BaldwinWhen interviewers sought out some sense of James Baldwin’s ambition, the artist often responded, “I want to be an honest man and a good writer.” The forces constellated around Baldwin’s career made this hardly a simple declaration. The issue of becoming a writer was an arduous task in itself, so much so that Baldwin felt he had to leave the United States, particularly his adored Harlem, to do so. Getting in the way of his artistry was the nation’s troubled negotiation with its own soul: the US was trying to figure out what it wanted to be—an apartheid state? A nuclear dreadnought? A den of prudish homophobes? An imperial power? A beloved community? A city on the Hill? This course looks at all things Baldwin, or at least as many things as we can cover a four moth period. It certainly indulges his greatest hits—his essays, Notes of A Native Son; his novel, Giovanni’s Room; his play, Blues for Mr. Charlie’s–and several other writings both published and unpublished. It does so with an eye toward understanding Baldwin’s circulation as a celebrated author and a public intellectual both in the mid-twentieth century and the present day.


Mr. Joyce            R          6:30-8:30         CLS 

English Seminar

Topic for 2019a:  Fanny Howe. “I traveled to the page where scripture meets fiction./The paper slept but the night in me woke up,” begins Fanny Howe’s poem, “A Hymn.”  In this seminar we travel through the work of this American poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and activist, the author of more than 40 books of poetry and prose, doing so not only in hopes of waking the night in us, but also exploring what Howe calls “bewilderment as a way of entering the day as much as the work. Bewilderment as a poetics and an ethics.” 


Mr. Russell           T         3:10-6:10         CLS 

English Seminar

Topic for 2019a: James Joyce’s Ulysses.

A close reading of Ulysses.   


III. Advanced Intensives

Senior Year Requirements

The College requires a special exercise to distinguish the work of the senior year in one’s major.  In the English department, that requirement takes the form of English 300, Senior Tutorial, or enrolling in at least one 300-level course in the senior year.

Description of English 300:  All senior English majors should consider taking this intensive.  The tutorial should reflect and extend the intellectual interests you have developed in your earlier course work.  The tutorial itself involves working with an individual faculty member to produce a long paper (approximately 10,000 words or 40 pages).  The project may consist of a sustained critical essay or a series of linked essays, or one of several alternatives, such as primary research in the Special Collections department of the Library, a piece of translation, a work of dramaturgy, a work of fiction, a collection of poems, or a scholarly edition of a particular work or group of works.

300 a or b

Senior Tutorial              INT

Preparation of a long essay (40 pages) or other independently designed critical project.  Each essay is directed by an individual member of the department.  Special Permission.


Ms. Graham            T         3:10-5:10         INT      

True Crime and the American Novel

This intensive is open to the general student body as well as students enrolled in ENGL 329, American Literary Realism, where the relationship between journalism and literature is a constant feature. Most of the writers on the syllabus were either journalists before they became novelists, or wrote for or edited magazines throughout their lives. Literary naturalism, a sub-genre of realism, eschews literary devices and stylistic preciosity, instead describing characters and events in the direct, unembellished prose of the newspaper account. From Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (inspired by the Wilmington, NC race riot of 1898) to Frank Norris’s Mcteague (inspired by the murder of a charwoman) to Theodore Dreiser’s The Financier (inspired by Charles Yerkes’s financial chicanery) to Richard Wright’s Native Son (inspired by newspaper accounts of a murder) the American novel has relied on ‘real events’ to generate ideas for character and plots. Students may conduct research into the events inspiring these and other novels for the course and present their findings to the group enrolled in the intensive). In addition, students may choose a crime from any period or region (be it Lizzy Borden’s alleged murder of her parents, Jack the Ripper’s murders, serial killers, political assassinations, the murder of Emmett Till) and locate and compare multiple representations of the event (whether in novels, plays, movies, comics, newspapers, trials, forensic science). In most instances, representations highlight historical, class, and racial tensions (or obliviousness) over the subject and even who has a right to speak for the victim. (The recent controversy over the Whitney museum’s exhibition of Dana Schutz’s depiction of the open casket funeral of Emmett Till is a good example. Schutz is a white artist and her detractors objected to her appropriation of an iconic black figure and potentially profiting from her work.)  Students are not limited to nineteenth century crimes or media for their final projects. The recent Kavanaugh hearings raise questions about the extrapolation of the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty beyond the courtroom. What should be the status of hearsay or personal testimony in determining ‘the truth’ of allegations?

While enrollment in English 329 is a plus, it is not required.

Six-week intensive offered second half of the semester.  This is a .5 unit intensive open to 8 students.