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Fall 2013 Course Descriptions

English 4300/4390 Senior Seminar (2 sections)

Note:  Each section of Eng 4300 has a parallel section of the honors version of the class, Eng 4390.  Students in departmental honors should register for 4390 instead of 4300 by contacting the Chair of the English Department.
Note:  English 4300/4390 are the English Department's seminars for English majors.  They are NOT EIU Senior Seminars.  English majors must take BOTH English 4300/4390 and an EIU Senior Seminar outside the English Department.

4300 Section 001       CRN 90828
4390 Section 099       CRN 90831
Senior Seminar: Edith Wharton & American Noir           1230-1345 TR

During much of the 20th century, Edith Wharton’s fiction was dismissed by critics who should have known better as “stories of manners and morals in Old New York.” That would have been true only if the Old New York these critics had in mind had been characterized by junkies, con artists, perverts, posers, and assorted other losers. Wharton’s fiction reveals a dark, disturbing—and wickedly funny—landscape of dysfunction that anticipates the noir fiction of mid-20th century America. We will pair several of Wharton’s works with fiction by Vladimir Nabokov, Patricia Highsmith, and James M. Cain as we explore the ways in which this later noir fiction resonates with shades of Wharton’s vision of “manners and morals.”   Requirements: lots of great reading and discussion; two short papers; one seminar research paper. (Group 4)

4300 Section 002       CRN 90829
4390 Section 098       CRN 90832
Senior Seminar: Reading a (Magnificent) Medieval Manuscript         1800-2030 W

In this class, we’ll be doing something entirely new: studying a magnificent book that almost no one has ever read. The book is one of the most important in the history of literary writing in England, but fewer than a dozen people have read the whole thing.

The book is known as London, British Library MS Harley 2253, and it was compiled in the southwest of England around the year 1340. Its fame—for the manuscript is very famous—comes from its containing the single most important collection of Middle English poetry prior to Chaucer, poems known collectively as the Harley lyrics. Without the book’s survival, we would not know that poetry of so sophisticated a level was being composed a full generation before Chaucer and his peers. The reason almost no one has read the whole book is that until this year it has been almost impossible to read. The British Library classifies manuscripts as ordinary, restricted, and highly restricted, and a reader who asks to be issued a highly restricted manuscript like Harley 2253 has to convince the curator that s/he is qualified and has a darn good reason. That’s the easy part. What’s harder is that the scribe who copied the manuscript wrote poetry and prose in three languages that very few 21st-century people understand (Middle English, Anglo-Norman French, and Medieval Latin). And he had a challenging handwriting.

So how can we read it? Harley 2253 has just now been edited in a facing-page translation that allows people who can’t untangle manuscript script or haven’t studied the languages to read the entire book in modern English. What we will find are 121 items upon 140 folios on topics that include politics (partisan diatribes, satires, complaints); religion (saints' lives, Bible stories, devotional poems); outrageous bawdy (fabliaux, love lyrics, disputes on women's nature); pure entertainment (debate poems, a romance, an interlude, travelogues on the Holy Land); and pragmatic subjects (paint recipes, occasions for prayers, a treatise on dreams, the advice of a royal father to his son). Ten years from now, all medievalists will know this book. In this class, we’ll be among the first people in 700 years to read it.

All our reading will be in modern English translation, but you may find the medieval languages fun to explore.

This seminar offers a rare chance to do something completely original. If this opportunity sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll join me. (Group 4)