Master of Arts in English

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  • Objectives
    The M.A. program in English is informed by the expectation that the student brings to it a broad and comprehensive undergraduate foundation in English literature. The program is designed to deepen and extend that comprehensive background at a more advanced and exacting scholarly and professional level, and to develop in the student a measure of specialization in a particular area within the discipline of English literary studies. An important objective of the master's program is to introduce students to advanced study and scholarly activity in order to provide an avenue towards a Ph.D. for those who wish eventually to seek a career in university teaching and literary scholarship. Towards these ends, the program is concerned to develop in students strong analytical skills and a grounding in diverse critical and theoretical approaches. Equally, the M.A. in English is designed to round off a reasonably complete higher education in literary studies for those who do not intend to proceed to a further degree in the field, but who may branch into other areas as diverse as law, publishing, editing, journalism, administration, management, communications, or teaching at the high school or college level. The Creative Writing option within the M.A. in English program is unique in Canada in that it combines an advanced scholarly education in English literature (with all the objectives described above) with a professional training in the art and craft of creative writing in order to produce active practitioners in the writing of poems, play, stories, and novels.
  • Academic title
    Master of Arts in English
  • Course description
    Greening Postcolonialism
    602C / 2              Jill Didur
    Postcolonial literary studies of the environment and the non-human (Tiffin, Huggan, De Loughrey) has included some debate on the relevance of ecocriticism to readings of postcolonial writing concerned with representing nature and animals. Critics have argued that ecocriticism and postcolonial studies must look for critical approaches that accommodate for both the textuality of literature and the extra-textual status of the more-than-human if they hope to link the ethical projects that drive both areas of scholarship (Nixon, Vital, Head, OBrien). Ecocriticism has largely emerged out of an American studies context (Buell, Glofelty, Slovic) resulting in a sometimes parochial view of environmental history. Postcolonial studies, on the other hand, “has shown scant interest in environmental concerns, regarding them implicitly as, at best, irrelevant and elitist, at worst, sullied by ‘green imperialism’ (Nixon). This course will attempt to address how these sometimes incommensurable dynamics in postcolonial and ecocritical theory might be brought into dialogue through a ‘Green’ approach to studying postcolonial literature.  Our discussions will focus on divergent approaches to reading literature in ecocritical and postcolonial studies that emphasize rootedness versus displacement, purity versus hybridity and the national versus transnational respectively.  We will ground these theoretical debates with discussion of literary works by writers such as  J.M Coetzee, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Amitava Ghosh, Shani Mootoo, Nadine Gordimer, Chandani Lokuge, Jamaica Kincaid, Arundhati Roy, and James George.

    Chaucerian Intertextuality and the Sources of The Canterbury Tales    (period / theory)
    608A / 2     Manish Sharma
    The recent completion of the two volume Sources and Analogues of The Canterbury Tales (2005) provides modern scholars with unprecedented access to Chaucer’s textual inheritance. At the same time, recent scholarship, particularly that of Jamie Fumo, has intensified and complicated our sense of Chaucer’s “intertextuality,” especially in The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde. The concept of the “intertext” and its relationship to the older term, “source,” open up a compelling problematic for contemporary medievalists. This course, accordingly, will engage, on the one hand, with Chaucer’s antecedents and, on the other, with contemporary theory. More precisely, our first objective is to read the sources of the CT (in translation) in order to negotiate the mature Chaucer’s Classical, Italian, English, and French heritage and to consider his place within the late medieval literary, philosophical, theological, and scientific milieu. Our second objective is to interrogate the presuppositions that undergird long-established source-critical approaches to medieval texts by deploying a (post)modern conceptual implement. Thus, we will explore the Kristevan, Barthesian, Derridean, and Bakhtinian resonances of intertextuality in order to generate a principled and useful distinction between intertext and source. Doing so will allow us to gauge the methodological utility of the concept along with its capacity to disturb longstanding historicist and philological hypotheses in the field of medieval literature in general and Chaucer-studies in particular.

    Studies in Medieval Literature 
    609A / 4
    Course description to be announced

    The Ballad     

    614B / 2   Kevin Pask
    The ballad occupies an odd place in literary history and analysis—as a popular, often anonymous, and musical form. It thus poses interesting problems for the relationship of literary culture to popular forms and of poetry to music. This course will examine the history of the ballad in English literature as well as its musical history (to the extent available to non musicologists), including the history of the collecting and cataloguing of ballads from the seventeenth century onwards, including Samuel Pepys, Bishop Percy, Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg, Francis Child, and John and Alan Lomax. It will include some traditional examples of the genre, including the Robin Hood ballads, Tam Lin, and others. It will also examine some of the popular broadside ballads of the seventeenth century, when the form was first adapted for an emergent print market (including an early representation of this process in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale). The course will engage the literary ballad with John Gay’s adaptation of the form in The Beggar’s Opera, which will be read along with Joseph Addison’s path-breaking essay on “Chevy Chase.”  Romanticism represents the high water mark of the literary ballad, and the class will examine examples in Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, as well as ballads by Sir Walter Scott, John Keats, Goethe, and others. The course will conclude with an examination of the ballad as a modern musical and lyrical form, including the twentieth-century revival of the ballad in both recordings of traditional music as well as adaptations and reinterpretations for popular music. How much did the twentieth-century “folk revival” recapitulate the terms in which the literary ballad previously adapted the ballad to a national literary culture?

    Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Sexuality   
       (period / theory)
    615B / 4     Danielle Bobker

    Scholars have argued that many of the cornerstones of sexual modernity, including a binary gender/sex system, normative heterosexuality, and domestic ideology, emerged in eighteenth-century Britain in relation to broad socioeconomic, political, and epistemological changes taking place in this period.  In this class we will read influential historical and theoretical narratives of sexual modernity and assess the pivotal role that eighteenth-century literary texts from across the genres – especially emergent genres like the novel and pornography – play in them.  A recurring thread in our conversation throughout the semester will be historiographical: that is, we will consider how various historians and theorists make use of literature as evidence.

    Primary works by, for example, Rochester, Wycherley, Astell, Locke, Addison & Steele, Manley, Richardson, Fielding, Cleland, Sterne, and Austen will be studied alongside twentieth- and twenty-first century histories and theories by Habermas, Foucault, Luhmann, Laqueur, Sedgwick, Warner, McKeon, Trumbach, Castle, and Halberstam.

    Forms of Libertinism     (period)
    616B / 2   Marcie Frank / Eric Méchoulan

    NOTE:    This course will meet off campus an the Universite de Montreal.  Students registered in the course     must be able to read and understand French.  Assignments may be submitted in English.

    This cross-listed MA/PhD seminar, team-taught by Marcie Frank of Concordia’s English Department and Eric Méchoulan of the Département des littératures de langue française of the Université de Montréal, examines the development of libertinism in France and England in the 17th century. We are most interested in the impact of libertinism on literary forms and genres, including satire, comedy, the secret history, and the novel. To that end, we read libertine texts from various critical perspectives, including those of philosophy, the history of sexuality and social/political history. Only a few of the texts are available in translation. Students will have reading and listening comprehension skills in both languages but can write the language of their choice.
    Texts include:
    Viau’s texts written in prison
    La Mothe Le Vayer, Hexaméron rustique
    Saint-Évremond’s short treatises on Epicurus and pleasures
    Cyrano de Bergerac, L’Autre monde
    Nicolas Chorier, L’Académie des dames
    Moliere, Don Juan
    Selected Cavalier poetry
    Selected Pepys
    Selections from Hobbes’ Leviathan
    Rochester’s poetry
    Wycherley, The Country Wife
    Aphra Behn, poems, The Rover and selected short prose fiction

    Dickens and government    
    621A / 4   John Miller
    Although Dickens had supported himself at the beginning of his career as a parliamentary reporter, a precursor of Hansard, it is interesting that his fiction does not include any detailed account of the operations of government and contemporary political life.  For that, we have to turn to Trollope. Nevertheless, politics and government figure repeatedly in Dickens' work, particularly in his mature work of the 1850s, and Dickens clearly identified with the various revolutionary movements of 1848, going so far as to identify himself as "Citoyen Charles Dickens".

    Based on Dickens' journalism and major works from the 1850s, this course will examine Dickens' treatment of politics and politicians in the context of political writing of the time, considering such topics as revolution (Barnaby Rudge, 1841, and A Tale of Two Cities, 1859), ideology and government (Hard Times, 1854), and corruption (Bleak House, 1853, Little Dorrit, 1857) in an attempt to understand Dickens' expectations of government as a means of protecting and regulating society and its incapacity to allow for social change.  Beyond this, we will be considering the role of other institutions (law, education, commerce, the church)  and the ways in which they similarly fail society's needs.  For perspective, we will read one or two of Trollope's Palliser novels, as well as writings by such contemporaries as Carlyle, Mill, Bagehot, Marx, and others.

    Victorian Literature of Critique     (period / theory)
    622C / 2     Jason Camlot
    “Criticism has become a very difficult word, because although its predominant general sense is of fault-finding, it has an underlying sense of judgment and a very confusing specialized sense, in relation to art and literature, which depends on assumptions that may now be breaking down.”  This opening comment about criticism in Raymond Williams’s Keywords  serves as a  useful point of departure for our seminar which  will focus on how fiction and non-fiction prose of the Victorian period functioned (or tried to function) as a medium of social and cultural critique.  We will expend critical effort attempting to understand what it meant to engage in critique in the Victorian period, and will consider the contemporary relevance of the array of  critical stances and methods presented in the course readings.  What are the assumptions that make criticism possible as a viable endeavor?   What kinds of criticism were being written in the Victorian period? What positions of authority were imagined from which a judgment could be issued.  How was such authority signaled with specific discursive and stylistic tactics?  What is the relationship between criticism as a discreet discipline and fiction (i.e. the novel) that engages with social and aesthetic problems? How do conceptions of character and the individual figure in social and cultural critique?   How did the relationship between social criticism and aesthetic criticism change as the nineteenth-century moved forward? These are a few of the questions we will be considering as we read examples of social, theoretical and aesthetic criticism, critically-inclined (“social problem”) novels of the Victorian period, as well as contemporary criticism on the subject of criticism by Amanda Anderson, Stefan Collini, Linda Dowling, Terry Eagleton, Catherine Gallagher, Mary Poovey and Ian Small, among others.

    Engendering Romanticism
    623B / 2     Jonathan Sachs
    With the critical recovery of Romantic women writers now well under way, more recent scholarly attention has turned to the construction of gendered positions and voices in the Romantic period. These debates about gender have initiated a revision of the Romantic canon and changed our understanding of the period as a whole. Through analysis of such topics as sensibility, women’s rights, domesticity, cross-dressing, political enfranchisement, and empire, this course develops a critical re-evaluation of the period’s literature. Our re-evaluation will examine the writing of female authors including Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Charlotte Smith, Hannah More, Mary Robinson, Mary Tighe, and Felicia Hemans in conjunction with some of the work of their male contemporaries Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Throughout, we will emphasize a critically self-conscious approach that considers how these writers constitute their understanding of “masculinity” and “femininity,” how this relates to current critical claims about “masculine” and “feminine” versions of Romanticism, and how both lines of inquiry relate to present-day debates about gender.

    Narrating The Self: Contemporary Textual And Visual Self-Representations
    625B / 4     Bina Freiwald  
    “Do I not know that, in the field of the subject, there is no referent?” (Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes)

    The growing appeal of textual and visual forms of self-representation owes much to contemporary preoccupations with the complex and shifting character of subjectivity, now understood as "a site of multiple solicitations, multiple markings of  'identity,'” but also of multiple figurations of agency and resistance (Leigh Gilmore, Autobiographics). We will examine textual, visual (graphic memoir, photography, film), and performative self-narratives, and drawing on theorizations of subjectivity and auto/biographical practices in a range of disciplines, we will engage with a wide range of issues, including: self-fashioning within and against the identity grids of gender, sexuality, class, race, nation; the experience of selfhood as relational; consciousness and memory as narrative; generic and linguistic hybridity and the interface of visual and textual self-representations; questions of ethics and auto/biographical practices as alternative jurisprudence.

    Assignments will include: short written responses to the assigned material throughout the term; an oral presentation accompanied by a brief written submission; a final research paper.

    Literary Character and the Modern Psychological Novel

    626B / 4     Omri Moses
    The subject of this course is the changing conception of character in the novel during the twentieth century. We will take a look at experimental writers like Henry James, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Rhys who wished to rethink what the nature of character is -- conceived in both a literary and a psychological sense. We will focus on formal strategies that gave emphasis to representations of consciousness, but also to reimaginings of sociality and social identity. Another point of interest will be in the way writers depicted or failed to depict psychic change. The course will be framed by a series of readings of influential psychological discourses of the period, particularly those of Henri Bergson, William James, and Freud, who offered new views about the nature of the mind. We will examine how their various models of the psyche vie for philosophical and literary precedence.

    Studies in 20th Century Literature
    628A / 4
    Course description to be announced

    Postmodern Peregrinations
    629A / 2     Andre Furlani.
    There is an elastic literary form, spanning genres and modes, that takes the form of an excursion and the tone of a notebook.  We may describe it as the excursus.  Its narrator or protagonist may be a peregrine or pilgrim, an explorer or commuter, promeneur solitaire or picaro, commercial traveller or refugee, naturalist or anthropologist, vagrant or consumer, flâneur or Wandervogel.  This vagabond form is not a mere record of travel; the excursive text may assimilate elements, for example, of the travelogue, road novel, quest romance, lyric poem, anthropological report, exploration narrative, and the essay (especially in its root sense of “attempt”).

    The excursus has happenstance for its muse and a sauntering gait.  The accidents of travel inform its structure, as cohered by the routines of the route and the rhythms of perception.  One of the form’s consistent themes is the generative interplay between contingent and constant forces.  Such a text is likely to be restless and inconclusive, ventilating ideas rather than consolidating an argument.  It is both itinerant and interior, spontaneous in character and digressive in structure.

    Defying easy classification, the excursus flourishes in an eclectic array of postmodern texts: the secular pilgrimage poem (e.g. Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island” and Anne Carson’s “Kinds of Water” sequences); the fictional travelogue (Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot) and the speculative one (Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines); the ode (John Ashbery’s “The Skaters”); the collage story (Guy Davenport’s “Fifty-Seven Views of Fujiyama”); the town and country rambles of Iain Sinclair (London Orbital and The Edge of the Orison) and the English and Continental ones of W.G. Sebald (The Rings of Saturn and Vertigo).

    These are among the excurses to make up the core syllabus of the seminar.  (Participants are invited to propose others, including examples from other media.)  The seminar should be as exploratory, tentative, and venturesome as the genre itself.  We will survey the subject with reference to a range of theoretical texts, several of which borrow their own structure from the excursus form, e.g. Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Baudelaire monograph, the psychogeography of Guy Debord, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Nomadology; Jeffrey Robinson’s iconography of the walk, and Michel de Certeau’s studies on the homologies between pedestrian, poet, and reader.

    The modernist antecedents will figure in discussion, e.g. the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire (“Zone”), Blaise Cendrars (“The Prose of the Transsiberian”), and the “Sunday in the Park” section of William Carlos Williams’ Paterson; Filippo Marinetti’s Futurist manifestos declaring  liberation from the old grammar by means of machine velocity; Robert Walser’s feuilleton “The Walk,” Xavier de Maistre’s “Journey around my Room,” and Osip Mandelstam’s “Journey to Armenia”; the peripatetic ethnography of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques, Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men and D.H. Lawrence’s Etruscan Places; and Beat fiction (Jack Kerouac’s On the Road).  There is as well the the refugee testimonial (Primo Levi’s accidental travelogue The Respite).

    We will also explore the ways postmodern writers summon and adapt precursors.  A genealogy of this genre would include Michel de Montaigne’s Travel Diary and Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North.  The locus classicus is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker and its Romantic epigones, such as Johann von Goethe’s Italian Journey, Heinrich Heine’s Germany: A Winter’s Tale, Wordsworth’s The Excursion et al., and Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.  The American vogue produced both Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” and Henry Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers.  How such texts helped shape not only the formal choices but the philosophical assumptions and political modalities of contemporary writers merit attention. There will be discussion also of genre theory, e.g. concerning the pressures that an unclassifiable form applies to generic expectations and conventions.  What, finally, invites us to call such a form and texts postmodern, and in what ways might they modify our sense of that designation?

    Post Donne  
    634A / 4     Judith Herz.
    The course will examine the ways in which Donne's poetry has been heard, taken over, absorbed by subsequent poets. We'll begin with Coleridge, but the main emphasis will be from the early 20th century to the present.  After working through some of Donne's poetry in order to establish a sound system, a way of thinking in language, we'll examine a wide range of poets from Rupert Brooke to Yehudah Amichai, Josef Brodsky, Paul Muldoon, Kate Bingham, Michael Longley, and many more.  Students will also be encouraged to do their own tracking of the voiceprint of Donne.

    Love: Petrarch to Sade
    647A / 2     Meredith Evans
    The questions often asked of aesthetic objects are also often asked of love objects: how and on what basis are they invested with value? Is this value personal, ethical, or political? Is it extrinsic or intrinsic to the object? Should our relationship to these objects be interested or disinterested? If, as such questions suggest, a degree of objectification is an essential part of the phenomenon or experience of love, what does this tell us about what it means to be a subject? This course examines various literary and philosophical articulations of “love”: courtly love poetry (Petrarch; Spenser); Classical notions of love (Plato v. Aristotle; eros v. philia); Christian or “brotherly” love (Augustine; Arendt); love as a sickness, or love as codified social conduct (Robert Burton and Niklas Luhmann respectively). The course centers on early modern literature, but we’ll start with Plato and end with recent challenges to conventional notions of love (Leo Bersani; robot sex). And since the course examines not just the phenomenon of love but representations of love (what is the difference between an aesthetic object and a love object, after all?), it will also consider what would come to be called, in the 19th century, “pornography”: for example, Eliza Haywood’s “Love in Excess”; Thomas Nashe's “Choice of Valentines”; etc.

    Research Methods in Canadian Literary Print Culture    (theory)
    662A / 2     Daniel O’Leary
    This course would introduce students to research methods for the study of the production, circulation, and reception of early modern and modern Canadian literature.  The course would begin with an introduction to bibliographical and biographical resources, finding aids, on-line resources, and Canadian book history and print culture; including the history of Canadian literary journals and small-press periodical publishing.  In the second phase of the course students would read selections for discussion of such issues as gendered and nationalist publishing, the print cultural mechanics of transatlantic and transnational identities, canonicity, genre, authorship, communities of print, cosmopolitanism and the marginalization of rural and minority Canadian voices, and the processes involved in the compilation of influential literary anthologies of Canadian writing.  In discussing early Canadian Print Culture, students also will be invited to consider such facets of Canadian literary history as job printing of poetry and fiction, ephemeral print, Canadian serials and magazines, booksellers, colporteurs and print distribution, public and private libraries,  and literature in school texts and authorized anthologies.   Genres other than poetry and fiction that will be discussed in the class will include: memoirs and autobiographies of explorers, travellers, traders, and missionaries; the Queen’s Printer and government reports, papers, and occasional publications; early Canadian learned publishing; and print for Canadian children.

    Authors whose works will provide readings for the course will include Saukamapee, Catherine Parr Traill,  Susanna Moodie, Sir John Franklin, John Richardson, Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Mary Anne Shadd, Charles Sangster, Isabella Vallancey Crawford,  Charles Mair, Sara J. Duncan [Mrs Everard Coates], Emily Pauline Johnson, Archibald Lampman, Sir Charles G. D. Roberts,  Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Marjorie Pickthall, F. R. Scott, Jessie Georgina Sime, and post-war and contemporary authors including Ethel Wilson, A. M. Klein, P. K. Page, Milton Acorn, Erin Moure, Mavis Gallant,  David Adams Richards, Rawi Hage, Madeleine Thien, and Anita Rau Badami.

    Under Reconstruction: Shifting Critical Stakes In American Literature  
    665A / 4     Mary Esteve
    This seminar aims to acquaint M.A. students with some central works of American fiction along with the general contours of literary-critical and critical-theoretical discourse—recent as well as past. To this end, the seminar will examine six works of American fiction (three from the late-19th century, three from the early-20th century) that have earned the distinction of being published either as a Norton critical edition or in the Bedford series, Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. The secondary criticism and critical gloss comprising these volumes will provide the basis for the seminar’s inquiry into: 1) the primary text’s place in literary and cultural history; 2) the shifts in critical assumptions and values over time and the way they inform interpretive practice; 3) contemporary theoretical approaches and the strengths and limitations of their interpretive yield. TEXTS: James The Turn of the Screw (Bedford); Twain Pudd’nhead Wilson (Norton); Wharton House of Mirth (Bedford); Larsen Passing (Norton); Cather O Pioneers! (Norton); Faulkner The Sound and the Fury (Norton). Students will also be expected to conduct research in criticism and theory beyond the selections provided by the Norton and Bedford volumes.

    The creative writing workshops are only available to students registered in the creative writing option of the M.A. program.

    Techniques or Fiction

    670A / 4     Josip Novakovich

    Poetry Workshop
    672A / 3    

    Drama Workshop
    673 / 3     Patrick Leroux.  

    Prose Workshop
    674A / 2     Mikhail Iossel.

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