English 217 - "Placing" Romanticism Syllabus

Thomas Hothem, University of Rochester
MW 3:25-4:40, Morey 401, CRN 71079
Tom Hothem email: tome@troi.cc.rochester.edu

"Placing" Romanticism

CLASS DESCRIPTION: This class will attempt to provide a comprehensive introduction to British literature written around the turn of the nineteenth century. We'll take a multi-dimensional view of this body of literature by asking all kinds of questions about "Place." For example, What place does the study of Romantic literature have in the study of literature in general? What aspects of literary composition place some writing in the category of Romantic literature? Where in particular does Romantic writing take place and in what light does it place the things about which it speaks? What places do Romantic writers describe? What effect did the Romantic imagination of place have on the physical environment, and vice versa? How might ways of depicting place be linked with the place of Romantic literature in the canon? Focusing on what writers and works are placed in our anthology will give us a perspective of how we as students of Romantic literature can ground our understanding of an imaginatively rich literary period.

"Placing" Romanticism will mean working to incorporate its subject matter into your literary and cultural vocabulary. The best way to learn about literature is to write about it. Hence, this class will be organized around our writing and thinking, and will develop with our classroom discussions.


Over the course of the semester, you will assemble a PORTFOLIO which will be assessed at term's end and will consist of the following:

  1. Weekly response papers--On Mondays of your choice, you will bring a single-spaced typed one-page paper which responds to the reading, class discussions, your own writing or experience. The writing need not be formal, but it must show your reading and writing. Response writing should strive to interpret your reading in some depth, and should privilege your personal reactions. These guidelines are purposefully vague, because the response papers will work best if you give your own thought and creativity free reign. Response papers will be assessed with a check, check plus, or check minus according to effort and ingenuity. You are required to complete eight (8) response papers.
  2. In-Class Writing Assignment--These will take various forms, usually to exploit writing's uncanny ability to get you thinking about what you've read. If I feel you are not keeping up with the reading, these will include quizzes on what you should have read. Depending on class size, in-class writing may include a midterm exam to ensure that everyone is processing the material in a satisfactory and comprehensive manner.
  3. Essays--Three of these will be described in handouts throughout term, will entail your own critical thinking, and will receive letter grades (very tentative due dates: 2/19, 4/2 and 5/12). Unlike response papers, essays are double-spaced and follow guidelines set out in the MLA Handbook. Among these will be a final term paper (around ten pages) whose proposal you will generate well in advance.
  4. Final Project--You'll notice that vast expanses of our anthology will have gone unexplored by the end of our term together. Here is your chance to exploit the anthology's selection for yourself as you expand your understanding of a "Romantic" theme of your choice.
    First, spend some time exploring the anthology for writings which you find intriguing. Start by "shopping" through the table of contents. You can choose entirely new authors/writings or continue reading in authors we've covered. Explore your interest in this/these writing(s) and develop a reading which elaborates on how/why your choice intrigues you. Choose enough writing for an in-depth essay, but not so much as to make your argument too broad or unwieldy. Focus closely on your material to wring all you can out of its language.
    Since you'll be dealing with alternative selections, the essay--which will be the culmination of your project--will in many ways be a comparative one. It will be a kind of introduction to "new" writings which finds some kind of inspiration (whether "good" or "bad," or somewhere in between) in those concepts we have explored in class. And it will inevitably shed new light back on these more familiar writings. Introducing "new" texts and rediscovering "old" ones will essentially point you toward a thesis.
    At least as a "jumping off point," sometime during your own writing you'll want to ground your choice in an understanding of familiar themes: compare your selection(s) to one or two selections/conceptualizations of "Romantic" writing we've covered in class. Now, you need not write an essay on "Romanticism" per se, nor should your essay make blanket statements about Romantic writing--in fact you'll most likely do best to leave the concept of "Romanticism" entirely out of the picture and develop terms entirely specific to your subject matter. But you may find that your choice challenges how Romantic writing has been conceived.

A word about class participation--I will lecture from time to time, but discussion is what will make this class go. Please come to class, and please come prepared to share your ideas (be assured, too, that no question is necessarily a bad one). I don't take attendance, but I notice if you are not present in class and I remember conspicuous absences. If you miss a class, it is your responsibility on your own time to find out what you've missed. From time to time, class participation will include brief student presentations--your chance to teach the class.

MATERIALS (available in the UR bookstore):

  • Anne Mellor and Richard Matlak, British Literature 1780-1830 (Harcourt Brace, 1996), Cost=$52
  • Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Kinsley ed. (Oxford, 1990), Cost=$6
  • Mary Shelley, The Last Man, Paley ed. (Oxford, 1994), Cost=$11.

Class Schedule

(subject to change according to progress; * denotes day response paper is due)

Jan. 20 MLK's Birthday Observed. Roll call and very brief Intro.

Jan. 22 What is Romanticism?

Jan. 27* The "Greatest Hits" of Romanticism?: William Wordsworth, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" (1807, p. 601); Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Kubla Khan" (1816, 729-30); George Gordon Lord Byron, "She Walks in Beauty" (1815, handout); Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind" (1820, 1101-1102); John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1820, 1297-9 8).

Jan. 29 Mellor, and Matlak, "General Introduction" (1996, pp. 1-6); Day, "Introduction" to Romanticism (1996, handout).

Feb. 3* Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1750), illustrated by William Blake (1790, handout).

Feb. 5 Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789, 277-84; 1794, 299-304).

Feb. 10* Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1792, 294-99).

Feb. 12 Mary Wollstonecraft, selection from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792, 371-413). "Rights of Woman" Context Section, pp. 31-52.

Feb. 17* A Vindication continued; Hannah More, selection from Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799, 220-23).

Feb. 19 Essay #1 due. Coleridge, "The Eolian Harp" (1795, revised 1828, 760), "Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement" (1797, 693-94), "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison" (1800, 709-10); Anna Laetitia Barbauld, "To Mr [S.T.] C[olerid]ge" (1799, 189); Mary Darby Robinson, "To the Poet Coleridge," (1800, 352).

Feb.24* Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798, revised 1817, 734-43).

Feb. 26 W. Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads. "Expostulation and Reply" (1798, 571), "The Tables Turned" (1798, 571), "Nutting" (1800, 585), "Simon Lee, the Old Huntsman, with an Incident in Which He Was Concerned" (1798, 564-66), "The Thorn" (1798, 567-70).

March 3* W. Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" (1800, 573-81).

March 5 W. Wordsworth, "Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13, 1798"; Dorothy Wordsworth, "Floating Island at Hawkshead, An Incident in the Schemes of Nature" (1842, 659).

March 10 & 12 No Class-Spring Break!

March 17* W. Wordsworth, The Two-Part Prelude (1799, 624-35).

March 19 The Two-Part Prelude, continued.

March 24* Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814).

March 26 Mansfield Park.

March 31* Mansfield Park.

April 2 Essay #2 due. W. Wordsworth, "Ode (Intimations on Immortality)" (1807, 603); P.B. Shelley, "To Wordsworth" (1816, 1062), "Mont Blanc" and "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" (1817, 1063-66).

April 7* P.B. Shelley, "Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude" (1816, 1053-62).

April 9 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Mathilda (1819, 1138-76).

April 14* Felicia Hemans, "The Domestic Affections" (1812, handout).

April 16 George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan--Dedication (1819, 1047-49) and Canto 1 (1819, 954-80).

April 21* Prospectus for final project due for writing groups. Byron, Don Juan from Canto 11 (1819, 980-97).

April 23 Keats, Odes. "Ode to Psyche," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy" (1820, 1295-98); and "Ode on Indolence" (1819, 1312-13).

April 28* M.W. Shelley, The Last Man (1826).

April 30 The Last Man.

May 5 Wrap-up. Keats, "To Autumn" (1820, 1309).

May 12 Portfolio with final project due.