Fall 2022 Undergraduate English Courses

358:328 Eighteenth Century Literature

01   CAC    TTH4   07907   ZITIN   FH-B6

Quarreling in Verse

This course introduces the literature of eighteenth-century Britain by zeroing in on one of its characteristic features: the literary debate. The main activity of the course will be the very close reading of paired poems that are in dialogue with one another. Sometimes these poems are competing adaptations of traditional subjects (for example, seduction poems or impotence poems); sometimes, authors pick fights with one another more directly, calling out an adversary or responding to a personal attack by adopting the style of the offending text. Often, this kind of response involves extending the fictional world of the text: giving new life to its characters to expose the folly of its author (this is, of course, one way of defining parody). Eighteenth-century writers don’t pretend to be above the fray, and they don’t conceive of literary self-expression as a higher calling that would preclude being in the trenches of what we now call culture wars. They respond to perceived provocation (intended or not) with both vicious sarcasm and impassioned rebuttal. We will discuss the rules of engagement for literary quarreling, along with strategies and techniques employed by a range of poets (Behn, Rochester, Swift, Montagu, Pope, Duck, Collier, Goldsmith, Crabbe) and two major novelists (Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding). Often, the debates we’ll examine center on the differences in how women and men are expected to behave, in drawing rooms and dressing-rooms as well as in bed, but as the semester progresses we’ll see more interest in the condition of the poor and the future of the English countryside. Writing assignments will range from short and informal (guided textual analysis) to longer and more formal (essays). This class is discussion-based, so attendance is essential and participation counts.