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III. Advanced Courses and Intensives

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


Ms. McGlennen                R          1:00-3:00           CLS

Senior Creative Writing Seminar

Study and practice of various forms of prose and poetry for experienced creative writers. 

Special Permission.

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

Open to juniors and seniors in all departments with permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.


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.


Mr. Perez                                        T          3:10-5:10 /   R          3:10-5:10 Film Screening

Challenging Ethnicity                                                                           

An exploration of literary and artistic engagements with ethnicity. Contents and approaches vary from year to year. 

Topic for 2020b: Racial Melodrama. (Same as AFRS 326) Often dismissed as escapist, predictable, lowbrow or exploitative, melodrama has also been recuperated by several contemporary critics as a key site for the rupture and transformation of mainstream values. Film scholar Linda Williams argues that melodrama constitutes “a major force of moral reasoning in American mass culture,” shaping the nation’s racial imaginary. The conventions of melodrama originate from popular theater, but its success has relied largely on its remarkable adaptability across various media, including print, motion pictures, radio, and television. This course investigates the lasting impact of such fictions as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life, the romanticized legend of John Smith’s encounter with Pocahontas, and John Luther Long’s Madame Butterfly. What precisely is melodrama? If not a genre, is it (as critics diversely argue) a mode, symbolic structure, or a sensibility? What do we make of the international success of melodramatic forms and texts such as the telenovela and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain? How do we understand melodrama’s special resonance historically among disfranchised classes?  How and to what ends do the pleasures of suffering authenticate particular collective identities (women, the working-class, queers, blacks, and group formations yet to be named)? What relationships between identity, affect and consumption does melodrama reveal?    


Mr. Márkus               W         1:00-3:00           CLS     

Studies in the Renaissance

Intensive study of selected Renaissance texts and the questions they raise about their context and interpretation. 
Topic for 2020b: Sex and the City in 1600: Gender, Marriage, Family, and Sexuality in Early Modern London. (Same as MRST 341) This course explores everyday life in the rapidly expanding early modern metropolis of London at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries.  We pay special attention to religious, social, legal as well as informal control mechanisms that influenced issues of gender, marriage, and sexuality in various layers of London society.  We anchor our investigations in a handful of plays by Beaumont, Chapman, Dekker, Ford, Jonson, Marston, Middleton, Rowley, and Shakespeare, but also explore other literary and non-literary texts. By situating our early modern texts in the cultural and historical contexts in which they were written and performed, we will be able to appreciate the historical differences as well as the occasional continuities between early 17th century and early 21st century interpretations and representations regarding such basic cultural and social issues as citizenship, class and gender difference, political agency, race and ethnicity, urbanization, and subject-formation.


Mr. DeMaria               F          10:30-12:30        CLS     


Study of John Milton’s career as a poet and polemicist, with particular attention to Paradise Lost.


Mr. DeMaria                M         1:00-3:00           CLS     

Studies in Eighteenth-century British Literature

Focuses on a broad literary topic, with special attention to works of the Restoration and eighteenth century.  

Topic for 2020b: Origins of the Periodical Essay. Although periodical publications got started in Europe shortly after the invention of printing, there was in England such a vast increase in their numbers and importance during the British Civil Wars (1642-60) that it's reasonable to think of that period as giving rise to periodical writing in its modern form.  In the later seventeenth century periodical publications became important vehicles for a new kind of writing aptly called the periodical essay.

Among the most important eighteenth-century practitioners of this form were John Dunton, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Johnson, and Oliver Goldsmith.  This course will examine the periodical writing of these authors in the context of the newspapers and journals for which they wrote: The Athenian Oracle; The Review; The Tatler; The Spectator; The Female Spectator; The Gentleman's Magazine; The Rambler; and The Bee, among other.   There will be several meetings of the class in Special Collections, and students will be expected to write on an early journal or periodical writer, making use of the original publications.  


Ms. Zlotnick                M         3:10-6:10           CLS

Studies in Nineteenth-Century British Literature

Study of a major author (e.g., Coleridge, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde) or a group of authors (the Brontes, the Pre-Raphaelite poets and painters) or a topical issue (representations of poverty; literary decadence; domestic angels and fallen women; transformations of myth in Romantic and Victorian literature) or a major genre (elegy, epic, autobiography).  Topic for 2020bThe Brontë Sisters. (Same as WMST 351 and VICT 351) The aim of this course is two-fold: a detailed study of the major works of Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë as well as an examination of the criticism that has been written about the sisters’ novels and poems. We acquaint ourselves with the different critical lenses through which the Brontës have been viewed (e.g., biographical, feminist, historicist,
postcolonial) in order to explore the ways in which the meaning of the Brontë sisters and their writing has changed over time. Primary texts include Jane EyreShirleyVilletteWuthering Heights, the Brontës’ poetry, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë.


Ms. Gemmill                  R          10:30-12:30        CLS     

Studies in Romanticism

Intensive study of Romantic-era texts with the option of pursuing a select group of writers under the rubric of a specific genre, methodological approach, topic or theme. This course aims to deepen students’ expertise in one or more of the topics covered in English 248.  Topic for 2020bWhat's Queer About Romanticism?  (Same as WMST 352) Why is it that the most influential and ambitious work in queer studies has rarely emerged from the field of Romanticism? The Romantic period has often been mischaracterized as a “seemingly asexual zone between eighteenth-century edenic ‘liberated’ sexuality…and the repressive sexology of the Victorians,” but in reality, this brief cultural moment in England produced a range of queer figures, both historical and literary: from Anne Lister, whose diary records hundreds of pages in code about the sex she had with women, to the Ladies of Llangollen, who openly cohabited with the support of English high society, to the myth of the modern vampire, a deeply sexualized and often queer figure. Given the richness of this terrain, why are queer studies lagging behind in Romantic circles? In this advanced seminar, we address this underdeveloped area of scholarly research through our reading of primary and secondary texts, our class discussion, and our critical research projects. Reading theory and criticism from Romanticism studies and adjacent scholarly fields, we ask ourselves—what is queer about this literary-historical moment that has not yet been accounted for? We will focus primarily on the poetry of the period, but also attend to some prose genres, including the diary and the essay. We will also watch some screen adaptations, including Mary Shelley and HBO’s Gentleman Jack


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

English Seminar

Topic for 2020b: Then Whose Negro Are You? On the Art and Politics of James Baldwin. (Same as AFRS 380) When 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 over a four-month 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.


Ms. Vestri                   T          1:00-3:00           CLS 

Sibling Theory

(Same as WMST 383) What role do siblings play in literature (and in our lives)? Are these characters secondary, incidental, merely complements to a protagonist—the organizing central consciousness—of a novel? Do they appear in poetry only as companions or sidekicks? Or, perhaps, do sibling relations offer a different set of tools for cultivating ways of knowing and being in the world that extend beyond, and even counter, the idea of a single, autonomous self?

In this course, we will investigate the kinship of brothers and sisters in British and American fiction and poetry from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To inform our literary explorations, we will look at recent feminist and queer critiques of scholarly thinking about the family, kinship, and marriage, critiques that have at times turned to siblinghood as an alternate locus for the development of identity, culture, ethics, and politics. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore research in fields such as gender studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis, history, and sociology to help us inquire how siblinghood acts as a form of networked and collective existence, and how these networks confront previous paradigms of the family that are structured as reproductive, patriarchal, and linear.

Fictional texts for the course may include, but are not limited to, Antigone, Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss, Franny and Zooey, Atonement, and The Royal Tenenbaums, which we will read in tandem with feminist and queer scholarship (e.g., Gayle Rubin, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, Leonore Davidoff, Juliet Mitchell) that challenges prior twentieth-century theories on kinship (Freud, Lacan, Levi-Strauss).

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.


Mr. Kane                       T          5:10-6:10           INT 

English Seminar

Topic for 2020b: Vassar Poetry Review. This Intensive (.5) offers students writing poetry the opportunity to revise and prepare their work for publication in the Vassar Poetry Review, while also learning about the principles and processes of publishing, including design, editing and printing. An issue of the Vassar Poetry Review will be published at the end of the semester, with students involved in all phases of the project. Those enrolled in English 211 (Advanced Creative Writing: Verse) will be given preference, but the class is open to any qualified students, whether majors or non-majors. Enrollment limited to twelve students.  Special Permission.