1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Introductory Seminars in Literature


  • ENLT 2513 Modern American Mythologies

    1400-1515 MW - CABELL B021

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Laura Goldblatt

    How do mythologies, defined by Richard Slotkin as persistently told stories which symbolize “that society’s ideology and dramatiz[e] its moral consciousness,” structure literature? This class takes up this question to ask why fictionalized accounts of America’s discovery, founding, and success recur throughout twentieth-century American literature. What does the use of such mythologies tell us about how members of various communities and historical circumstances viewed American identity? The poets, novelists, playwrights, and essayists considered engage with these stories to critique, praise, and carve out alternative potentials for our understanding of the American past and our relationship to it. As the study of American literature turns increasingly to the transnational, global, and hemispheric, keeping an eye firmly on the local can help us to see the ways that domestic tensions inform, and are informed by, changing circumstances at home and abroad. In addition to grappling with these issues through active class discussions, close reading, and written assignments, we will also consider questions of form. For instance, why does William Carlos Williams choose to document the American conquest, Puritan founding of New England, and birth of American literature through pseudo-factual essays and first person accounts? Why does Hart Crane investigate similar subject matter by drawing upon traditional conventions of epic poetry? This class will include works by Willa Cather, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Tony Kushner, among others, before ending with Lois Ann Yamanaka’s lament for the death of the American dream in impoverished, and orphaned, Hawaii.

  • ENLT 2514 Modern American Novels

    1000-1050 MWF - BRYAN 328

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Stephen Railton

    In this class we'll take up eight or ten of the best and most challenging 20th century American novels, to explore what they can help us learn about reading, thinking, speaking and writing critically.  Authors will probably include Chopin, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hurston, Nabokov, Morrison and Roth.

  • ENLT 2514 Notorious: Modern American Authors

    0930-1045 TR - McLEOD 2008

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Camilla Ammirati

    In the age of the Internet, we are more flooded than ever with images and ideas of celebrity, with figures famous for acts of valor or villainy, if indeed they’re famous for anything other than being famous. What is it that makes individuals celebrities or outcasts, and how different are these different states? What can we as Americans learn about our culture and ourselves by better understanding whom we vilify or valorize, and why? Exploring a variety of genres—including poetry, fiction, drama, essay, and new journalism—this class introduces students to major 20th century authors who both create and sometimes are themselves notorious figures of one kind or another. Exploring questions of fame and infamy, it asks how authors both participate in and expose myth-making processes, both fit and break the molds, both bare and blur the lines between facts and fictions. How, by exploring the politics of celebrity, do they in fact reveal the contours of self-knowledge and - definition? And how, by examining them, can we better understand the obsession with fame and infamy in our own time?

  • ENLT 2514 Family and Dysfunction

    0930-1045 TR - CABELL B020

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Michael Spiegel

    This course will examine a selection of contemporary American novels with a critical eye aimed at the ever-evolving definition of the American family. We will analyze how each author represents family dysfunction and how such representations reflect larger societal tensions that arise from engineering the self amidst conflicting and competing collectivities and histories. Some of the major American authors under consideration include Kingston, DeLillo, Morrison, Smiley, Roth, and Franzen.

  • ENLT 2523 Lyric Poetry

    1400-1515 MW - MAURY 110

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: John Parker

    Working more or less chronologically we'll cover some of the major lyric poems in English from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.  Our central goals: to learn to read poetry as carefully as possible; to gain a sense of "period" or "movement" where something of that sort may be discerned; to develop an analytic prose style adequate to the challenges of complicated literature.  There will be very frequent writing exercises and workshops.  My hope is that by the end of the class students will feel able to approach almost any lyric poem and to write about it with confidence and pleasure.

  • ENLT 2523 Introduction to Poetry
    1230-1345 TR - CABELL B021

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Jessica Feldman

    Poetry-phobes,  poets, and those in-between are equally welcome. This course will introduce you to the aims, knowledge and skills involved in reading poetry and writing about it.  It will, as well, familiarize you with methods of textual study applicable across a broad range of courses. Think of this course as a “poetry immersion laboratory” where we will do things with poems such as reading them with enlightened curiosity; responding to them critically and creatively; performing them, and considering their existence as physical texts.

  • ENLT 2523 Modern Poetry

    1200-1250 MWF - PAVILION VIII, 108

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Chris Forster

    A survey of major Anglophone poets in the first part of the twentieth century with special attention to how issues of form affect poetic meaning. Likely authors include W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Marianne Moore, Claude McKay and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Coursework includes weekly responses, three essays, and a final exam.

  • ENLT 2524 Studies in Drama: Dark Comedy

    1530-1645 TR - CABELL B029

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Lotta Löfgren

    Our topic for this semester will be "Dark Comedy." Neither comedy nor tragedy, not quite tragi-comedy, dark comedy makes us laugh and tremble. Our great playwrights love the form for its political and metaphysical possibilities; the comtemporary period can't do without it. We will figure out why. In the process, we will relate the plays to the tradition and trace the development of Western drama. We will practice close reading skills, familiarize ourselves with literary terms, and develop methods for writing effective critical essay. Readings: Aristophanes,Lysistrata; Shakespeare, Measure for Measure; /Moliere, The Misanthrope; Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot; Caryl Churchill, Cloud Nine; Suzan-Lori Parks, Venus; Martin McDonagh, The Lieutenant of Inishmore; Edward Albee, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia.

  • ENLT 2524 Drama and Violence

    1400-1515 MW - CABELL B020

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Emma Solberg

    This course will question the function of violence in theater.  Taking a tip from Nietzsche, we’ll begin with the Dionysian rituals of sparagmos (sacrificing by dismembering) and omophagia (eating raw flesh) and their relationship to the birth of tragedy.  We’ll continue to medieval Christian martyrdoms (Hroswitha’s Sapientia and the York Crucifixion) and the blood-bath blockbusters of the Renaissance (Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus) and Restoration (Elkanah Settle’s Empress of Morocco).  From then on, we’ll read plays that shocked and appalled their contemporary audiences: no one would produce Shelley’s The Cenci, Bond’s Saved was censored, and The Daily Mail called Kane’s Blasted a “disgusting feast of filth.”  In this course, we’ll discuss the role of violence throughout the history of Western drama, asking how it is done, what it is for, and what it does to the audience and community.  Course requirements include participation in discussion, short response papers, three essays, and a final exam.

  • ENLT 2526 Migrant Fiction

    0930-1045 TR - CABELL 241
    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Mrinalini Chakravorty

    Salman Rushdie has written that, “Migration offers us one of the richest metaphors of our age.” Taking Rushdie’s claim as our starting point, this course explores the complexity of the metaphor of migration through the study of a diverse body of Anglophone novels that specifically fictionalize experiences of migration. Contemporary literary imaginings of migration are framed equally by the utopian possibilities as well as the dystopic material realities that define a uniquely migrant modernity. On the one hand, migrant cultures are seen to elide national boundaries, enable cultural encounters, and collapse fantasies of a homogeneously cohesive national narrative. In this sense, an emergent literary aesthetics of migrancy seems to celebrate flexible forms of belonging in the world: as hybrid, metro-sexual, transcultural, nomadic, cosmopolitan, multi-lingual etc. On the other, the migrant figure, liminal and ever shifting, also represents the collective phantasms of modernity working out their own scenes of inequity and exclusion. In this second sense, the migrant imaginary is also a political one concerned with those axes of belonging and non-belonging - as citizen or alien, patriot or traitor, legal or illegal, native or naturalized - that continue to stratify our societies. Our study will take seriously these various historical, social, and literary figurations through which recent seminal texts of world literature represent migration. We will begin with the premise that the migrant perspective is an important one in the context of new English literatures because the metaphors of journey, unrootedness, mobility, dispossession, and exile that frame it are useful to understanding the complex situation of our present world. In order to have a sense of the global scope and relevance of the topic, we will read a range of novels that focus exclusively on stories of migration. Among others, we will read works by Desai, Lahiri,  Aidoo, Kincaid, Selvadurai, Al-Shaykh, Ali, and Rushdie.

  • ENLT 2526 Comparative Modern Fiction

    1100-1150 MWF - CABELL B026

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Amanda Sigler

    This course aims to situate Modernism in its properly international context, asking how it developed with varying nuances in selected European countries.  Though we will be encountering foreign texts in translation, we will be asking how Modernist writers uniquely address the question of language as it relates to national and individual identity, increasing urbanization, cross-cultural encounters, and the clash of nations brought about by colonial wars and by World War I.  In the course of the term we will explore how French, German, British, and Irish texts interact with each other—for example, how Flaubert’s free indirect discourse connects to Joyce’s “Uncle Charles Principle,” how Joyce’s multilingual puns reflect on the convergence of multiple cultures, how Woolf and Mann variously address the crises of identity that accompany modernity, and how narrative inconsistencies in Victorian adventure fiction influenced high Modernism across the continent.

  • ENLT 2548 Ethnic American Literature

    100-1050 MWF - CABELL B020

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Nathan Ragain

    In this course, we will compare major works of Asian American, Native American, and Latina/o literature, concentrating on literature from the 1960s to the present. The primary goal of this course is to develop close reading skills and tools of literary analysis, and to this end, we will engage with the formal and linguistic experiments developed by contemporary ethnic writers. We will also consider the ways that writers from these ethnic traditions imagine and negotiate conflicts between ethnic and national identity, particularly in the wake of Civil Rights and the radical movements of the 1960s and 70s. Paying particular attention to the ways that literature frames the relationship between the writer and social spaces such as the reservation, the urban barrio, Chinatowns, and internment camps, we will trace narratives of community, exclusion, multiculturalism, and the role of gender in developing ethnic literary traditions. The course focuses primarily on works of fiction and drama, but readings will be supplemented by shorter works of poetry and political writing. Writers include Leslie Marmon Silko, Karen Tei Yamashita, Frank Chin, Sherman Alexie, and Piri Thomas.

  • ENLT 2552 Bad Mothers

    1100-1215 TR - CABELL 245

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Carolyn Tate

    This course will examine representations of troubled and often dangerous motherhood throughout English and American literature and media.  Working with multiple literary genres, but in particular focusing on the novel, this course considers how literature represents “natural” motherhood and maternal behaviors which disrupt both the family and the community.

  • ENLT 2555 Introduction to Queer Literary Studies

    1400-1515 MW - BRYAN 332

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: Anna Ioanes

    This course is designed to be an introduction to queer theory through close reading and critical writing. A major goal of the class will be to discern what makes a literary work “queer” and what it means to read “queerly.” Through close formal analysis of plays, novels, and short fiction, students will develop a definition of queer reading practices. We will supplement our readings with short selections from significant works of queer theory in order to link literary forms to the development of gay and lesbian identity and the critique of heteronormativity. Complementing our exploration of queer methodology, writing assignments will encourage students to think critically about how culture forms our gender, racial, and sexual identities and, in turn, ways those identities emerge in—and are challenged by—cultural forms. By the end of the course, students will be able to map the relationships between fictional representation, gender and sexual identity, and conceptions of the modern self.

    Literary texts include Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues, Toni Morrison's Sula, James Baldwin's Another Country, and Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle.” Theoretical texts include excerpts from Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, John D'Emilio's "Capitalism and Gay Identity," Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” and Leo Bersani’s “Is the Rectum a Grave?” Works that resist the distinction between theory and literature, such as Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, will usefully complicate our queer readings.

  • ENLT 2555 Imagining Slavery

    1700-1815 MW - BRYAN 338

    Instructor: Dorothy Couchman

    Me: looking forward talking about 300 years of English and American writing about slaves with a group of thoughtful, engaged first- and second-years.

    You: excited about reading, re-reading, and writing 20+ pages over the course of the semester.

    The course texts (tentative): Aphra Behn, Oroonoko; Olaudah Equiano, Interesting Narrative; Frederick Douglass, My Slavery and My Freedom; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin; Caryl Phillips, Cambridge; Toni Morrison, A Mercy.  Plus some poems and plays.

  • ENLT 2555 Art for Art's Sake

    1400-1515 TR - CABELL 423

    Restricted to 1st and 2nd Year Students

    Instructor: William Pickard

    Should art address social problems? In what sense, if at all, do literary forms convey moral values? How should we, as readers, react to art that offends us? This course explores the proposition, memorably expressed by William Wordsworth in 1798, that art should have a “worthy purpose.” It does so by grounding this argument within a specific context: the rise of various aesthetic movements in France, England and the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As we will see, the critical and imaginative works that emerge from these movements seldom share Wordsworth’s convictions about the efficacy that a poem (or novel or play) may have. Many are more likely, in fact, to approximate the sentiment of Oscar Wilde’s Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, which announces that “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book” and that “Vice and virtue are to the artist instruments of art.” As such, it would not be inaccurate to say that our discussions will begin in earnest and end with urbanity, though along the way we will look to trouble these responses and consider a range of others besides. We will pay special attention to the fin de siècle and to Wilde, its largest personality, but also give the opposition its due. Readings may include works by John Keats, Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, John Ruskin, the Rossettis, Vernon Lee, Henry James, Virginia Woolf and Wallace Stevens, among others.