English 40.301: Major British Poets, 1660-1830

Michael Gamer <mgamer@english> Office: 203 Bennett Hall

Class meets: MW 3-4:30 Phone: 898-7346

328 Bennett Hall Office Hours: M 10-2, F 9-11:30.


Course Description:

Back in the early nineteenth century, the famous reviewer and critic Francis Jeffrey wrote in The Edinburgh Review that there were "not thirty [poets] whose works are to be found in the hands of ordinary readers--in the shops of ordinary booksellers--or in the press for republication." At that time, Jeffrey joked about wanting to stop the production of the poets and the presses, if only for a decade, so that he could direct his readers to the vast amount of good British poetry, either neglected or forgotten, that he did not want to see die. Therefore, in this course, we will do our best to do the impossible: sample British poetry from 1660 to Jeffrey's day in our own Grand Tour that hopefully will achieve an understanding even about the authors that we will not have time to read. We will do so by looking frequently (though not exclusively) into a tradition of poetry--that of landscape--that will allow us to see how present poet revise and draw from their predecessors. Understanding the various topographies of British poetry, furthermore, will allow us to examine how it constructs psychological and political landscapes as well. The required work for this course will be a three responses, a close reading exercise, a short and long essay (graded in an end-of-semester portfolio), and a comprehensive final.


Books: At the Penn Book Center, on the corner of 34th and Sansom. Phone # is (215) 222-7600.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 1C. ISBN 0-393-97567-3.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2A. ISBN 0-393-97568-1.

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. ISBN 0-312-11560-1.

A Guide to MLA Documentation Style. ISBN 0-395-93851-1.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. ISBN 0-486-28122-1.


Coursepack: At Wharton Reprographics, in the basement of the Wharton School.



Course Calendar:


NOTE #1: The first two responses must be handed in before Halloween. The third may be handed in any time until November 16th.

NOTE #2: When reading critical essays, focus on how these essays make their arguments. How do they begin? Do they have a thesis or a project? How do they ask questions? Most important, how do they use evidence? Does each writer's quotations actually demonstrate what they claim that they do? Do you find the evidence provided actually makes a strong enough case for what each writer argues? THEN, look to your own writing practices. Are there writing techniques that you can incorporate into your own writing?


Sept 10: Introduction to the course. A Song for St. Cecilia's Day."

Sept 12: Read the introductory essay entitled "The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century" and the introductory essays on John Dryden and Samuel Pepys (Note: always read the introductory essay to any new author we read). Read the selections from John Dryden's "Annus Mirabilis" (1667) and from Samuel Pepys's Diary. For discussion: think about a few key differences: London before the Fire and after; privately recording events in a diary vs. interpreting them publicly; writing about public events in prose vs. poetry.

Sept 17: Landscapes of Satire. Read John Dryden, "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" (1684) and MacFlecknoe (1682); read also the extract from A Discourse Concerning the Origin and Progress of Satire (1693).

Sept 19: Landscapes of Satire II. See the Handout "Reading Poetry: Some Hints to Help You Read with More Pleasure and Understanding. Then read Anne Finch, "Adam Posed" (in coursepack); the poems by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (see anthology and coursepack), and the poems by Jonathan Swift. For Discussion: Finch's "Adam Posed" and Swift and Montagu on "The Lady's Dressing Room."

Sept 24: The Limits of Allegory and Autobiography. Read the poems by Anne Finch in the anthology and the coursepack, and reread Jonathan Swift, "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift." For Discussion: Anne Finch, For Discussion, two pairs of poems: "The Bird and the Arras" and "To the Nightingale", and "On Myself" and "The Introduction."

Sept 26: External Landscape and Poetic Process. Read John Barrell, "The Idea of Landscape in the Eighteenth Century." Reread Finch's "The Nightingale" and "A Nocturnal Reverie"; we'll discuss these poems in conjunction with one another. Close reading exercise due in my box by 4 p.m.

Oct 1: Urban Landscapes and Mock Epics. Reread Swift's "A Description of the Morning" and "A Description of a City Shower" (1710) and read Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, "Wit: True, False, Mixed" (The Spectator No. 62, March 11, 1711). Then read Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, cantos 1-2. For Discussion: Think hard about the similarities and differences between this Swift poem and "The Lady's Dressing Room"--not only their subject matter but also their form. What happens to poetry when it moves from iambic tetrameter to pentameter? Does the Pope poem make this clearer?

Oct 3: Finish Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock (1712), cantos 1-2, and the selections of Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Inquiry into Our Notions of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757) in the coursepack. For Discussion: What is the overriding aesthetic of The Rape of the Lock? Is it possible for a mock-epic to be sublime?

Oct 8: Multiple Views of the Same Landscape. Read the selection of Paul Shepherd's The Cultivated Wilderness (1997) in the coursepack, and Alexander Pope, Windsor Forest (1713).

Oct 10: Enlightened Forms, Poetic Traditions. Read Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism. For Discussion: Look up the word "essay" in the Oxford English Dictionary On-Line (http://dictionary.oed.com, via Library Homepage under "Reference Shelf"). How is this poem an "essay" and how does it "essay" criticism? How does the poem ask its readers to read poetry? Does Pope in The Rape of the Lock follow the directives that he sets up in An Essay on Criticism?

Oct 15: Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard (1717).

Oct 17 From Couplet to Ode. Read the poems by Thomas Gray in the coursepack and in the anthology. Read Linda Zionkowski's "Bridging the Gulf Between: The Poet and the Audience in the Work of Gray." For Discussion: "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (1747) and "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751)

Oct 19: Short Essay Due (to be revised for portfolio) in my box by 4 p.m.

Oct 22: Reading: Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village (1770), Richard Sha, "Gray's Political Elegy," and Thomas Gray's "Elegy." Finish discussing Gray in relation to Goldsmith.

Oct 24: Reviving the Sonnet I: Read the introduction by Stuart Curran to The Poems of Charlotte Smith (1993) and the selections of Charlotte Smith, Elegiac Sonnets (1784) in the coursepack.

Oct 29: Conversation Poems. Read M. H. Abrams, "Structure and Style of the Greater Romantic Lyric." Read Samuel Coleridge, "The Eolian Harp," "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," and "Frost at Midnight." Read also: William Wordsworth, "Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey." For Discussion: Either "This Lime-Tree Bower," "Frost at Midnight" or "Tintern Abbey."

Oct 31: Hauntings. Read the rest of the Samuel Coleridge in the anthology, particularly "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Kubla Khan," "The Pains of Sleep," and "The Phantom." Read also the poems by Mary Robinson in the anthology. For Discussion: Either the "Rime" or "Kubla" or "The Haunted Beach." Do these poems change when we read them as dreamscapes? Written 90 years before Freud, do they provide us with any kind of map of the mind or of consciousness?

Nov 5: Revolutionary Landscapes: Read the introductory section of the anthology entitled "The French Revolution and the Spirit of the Age," and then read William Blake, "Introduction" to Songs of Experience, "Earth's Answer," "The Garden of Love," and "London." Then read The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1792). For Discussion: We'll begin with one of the short poems, and then dive into the Marriage.

Nov 7: Finish The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Read also the book chapter by David Erdman on The Marriage in the coursepack.

Nov 12: Revolutionary Poetics? Reviving the Ballad I. Read the Popular Ballads at the end of Volume 1C of the anthology. Then read William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802) and the poems by him preceding it. For Discussion: Passages of the Preface in conjunction with "Simon Lee" and/or "The Thorn."

Nov 14: Reviving the Ballad II. Read Marlon Ross, "Naturalizing Gender: Woman's Place in Wordsworth's Ideological Landscape"; and William Wordsworth, "Strange fits of Passion," "She dwelt among the untrodden ways," "three years she grew," "A slumber did my spirit seal," "I travelled among unknown men," "Lucy Gray," "Two April Mornings," and "Nutting." For Discussion: Either "Lucy Gray" or "Nutting."

Nov 19: The Sublime. Read Percy Shelley, "Mont Blanc" and "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" (both 1816).

Nov 21: Revolution and the Sublime. Read Percy Shelley, "To a Skylark" (1822) and "Ode to the West Wind" (1820). Long Essay Due (to be revised for portfolio) in my box by 4 p.m.

Nov 26: Reviving the Sonnet II. Read Stuart Curran, "The Sonnet." Read the sonnets in the anthology by William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, and John Keats. For Discussion: Sonnets of your choice.

Nov 28: Reviving the Ode. Read Stuart Curran, "The Ode." Read all the odes by Keats: "Ode to Psyche," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," "Ode on Indolence," and "To Autumn" (all 1820). Compare them to Gray's odes and to poems like "Tintern Abbey." What, if anything, has changed?

Dec 3: Reviving Mock Epic. Read Stuart Curran, "Epic." Read Stuart Curran, "Epic." Read the selections in the anthology of Lord Byron's Don Juan (1818-24). For Discussion: Canto I.

Dec 5: Enclosure and the Village: The Poetry of John Clare. We will spend our final two class periods on Clare. Per class, we will discuss one or two poems in depth. I strongly recommend, however, that you simply read through the introductory essay and the poems in the coursepack, dipping in as you wish, and moving on if a poem does not please you. Raymond Williams is perhaps the most important materialist critic working in England in the last 40 years; his introduction is excellent. The edition is littered with short prose passages (in 'quotations marks' in the table of contents) written by Clare that are very entertaining as well, and will give you a huge amount of insight into this fascinating poet. For Discussion: "The Mores," "The Lament of Swordy Well," or "Remembrances."

Dec 10: Final Class, final questions: John Clare, "The Thrushes Nest," "The Pettichaps Nest," "The Wild Duck's Nest," "The Mouse's Nest," "I am," "The Fox," or "The Badger." For Discussion: whichever one you wish.

Dec 17: Portfolios due in my box by 4 p.m.



Computer Information and Resources:


Homepage: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer. All of the items below are available via this homepage.

Syllabus and Course Handouts: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Teaching. This has the syllabus, course handouts, and other useful links.

Electronic Resources: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Lit/ (esp. for 1660-1780) and http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Romantic (for 1780-1830). You'll especially find sites like "The Romantic Chronology," "Romantic Circles," and "British Women Writers" useful.

OED (Oxford English Dictionary) available on-line via Library Homepage, under "Reference." The world's greatest dictionary, with historical quotations, on line.

MLA (Modern Language Association) Bibliography available on-line via Library Homepage, under "Databases." A database bibliography of most modern literary critical articles published between 1960 and 2001 -- and therefore the first place to go when doing research.

ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue) available on-line via Library Homepage, under "Library Catalogues." A catalogue of every book published between 1473 (the Caxton printing press) and 1800, with the locations of the books.

Literature Online available via Library Homepage, under "Databases." A full-text database of on-line texts, and very useful for research.

RLIN (Research Libraries Network) available on-line via Library Homepage, under "Library Catalogues." A super-catalogue, combining the catalogues of the top 20 research libraries in the world.






This class will conduct itself as a seminar--that is, as a group of people sharing mutual interests who meet regularly to pursue those interests. Our class, consequently, will be discussion-based with periodic short lectures; one of the reasons I've provided introductory material on each poet is to avoid using too much of our class time on introductory lectures. I've set up the course so that you will have considerable freedom to come into class with your own agendas and questions. Obviously, with this freedom comes responsibility. On the one hand, as a class, we must agree to honor each other's interests and intellectual tangents, and respect what each other thinks is important; on the other hand, it is every seminar member's responsibility to be succinct, and not to waste the rest of the members' time by flogging a personal hobby-horse. Most importantly, it means responding to one another rather than talking at one another. So, if you are extremely shy to the point of being incapable of participating in an open and thoughtful discussion, I don't think this is the class for you.



As this course is a seminar, your presence matters. Since I know that disasters happen unexpectedly during the semester, I allow you three absences. Since there's no such thing in this class as an "excused" absence, I don't want to know why you miss class. Please do not write to me saying "I know you don't want to know about why I've missed class, but I still wanted to let you know" etc. Your three absences are your business. Missing more than three classes is equally your business, but it will significantly lower your grade, since it will inhibit your ability to contribute significantly to our discussions. You should count on 4-6 absences lowering your grade by 1/3 (B to B-, for example), 7-9 by 2/3 (B to C+), 10-12 by one full grade (B to C), etc. That said, please DO notify me if you are experiencing a major illness (missing more than a week of class); and do get a note from your doctor.





1) Three Responses (Total 15% of the grade; approximately 300 words each): Part of the preparation for our meetings will be the responses you will send to gamer40-301@dept.english.upenn.edu. Please do not post your responses as attachments. These responses will be due on Saturday, by 6 p.m.; we'll use them to shape our discussions for that week, and so your responses should address the upcoming reading for that week. You should try to do these early in the semester. At the latest, the first two are due before October 31, and the third is due before November 15.

I'll place the responses on the web each week so that you can print them easily, and will let you know usually on Sunday the URL. Every member of the class should print out the responses, read them closely, and bring them to class along with the texts we'll be discussing. You should arrive to class having selected two passages from the responses. Ideally, they should be passages that you wish to discuss further, ones that you like immensely, or ones that you disagree with strongly. You should be prepared to read those passages aloud and explain why you want to discuss them.

I'll be grading the responses on a scale from + (plus) to √ (check) to - (minus), and will evaluating them based on their engagement, thoughtfulness, and ability to instigate meaningful discussion. You should know that I will downgrade these if they arrive late, since they constitute in many ways the single most important part of the course. They will be the basis from which we begin our discussions, and will play a key role in my sense of your involvement and performance in the course.


2) Close Reading Exercise (10% of grade, not revisable). For this assignment I would like you to choose either a short poem or a passage from a long poem (up to 30 lines). The poem should be from the course syllabus; we should not have discussed the particular passage in class. In a short essay (less than 1000 words -- please note that quotations from the text do not count as words) I would like you, by reading the text closely and paying close attention to particular quoted passages, to demonstrate to me how the poem or passage signifies or makes its meaning. In particular, I want you to concentrate not on what your poem denotes (what it literally says) but on how it works and what it connotes (what it implies or manages to signify through means other than denotation). You might also wish to think about your poem or passage as a process--as something that unfolds or develops, or as a kind of language-machine. You may wish to look at how given words within your poem or passage change meaning -- that they literally begin by meaning one thing (or being ambiguous) and then, lines later, come to mean something else. Put another way, there's often a difference between what poems say (denote) and what they mean (connote), and you should choose a poem or passage where this difference is marked and where the process by which meaning is made is interesting -- and in which it is possible for you to demonstrate for me how it manages to signify what it does.

As a model, you may wish to look at the analytical sections of articles like Marlon Ross's or Richard Sha's (in coursepack), both of which read their respective poems quite closely. In addition, you might find the "Reading Poetry" handout useful, as well as simply paying attention in discussion to the various approaches we take to reading individual poems.


3) Portfolio (45% of grade): The portfolio is due in on December 17 at 4 p.m. in my office. It will consist of a final version of your short paper and your long paper, both of which I will have read in draft during the semester.

i) Short Paper (15% of grade, no more than 2000 words-- please note that quotations from the text do not count as words): I would like you to write me a 4-6 page essay (1250-2000 words) that fulfills the following assignment: "At some point during the semester, you will find that we as a class have not discussed a particular text in the ways that you think it needs to be discussed. We either will have ignored a vital aspect of that text or have misread it--or perhaps we simply will have failed to discuss the text from an important perspective. Possibly in class you will even have raised this key issue only to find that, for some reason, the class ignores it for some other issue. It is very likely that in illuminating one area of the text we will have made ourselves blind to other, equally interesting areas of the same text. Or possibly we will fail to discuss--or gloss over superficially--an entire section or even an entire text (possible in the case of the shorter ones). Assignment: Write an essay in which you situate your own viewpoint in relation to this class discussion--one in which you attempt to show the class another, better way of reading this text. How does reading this particular text from your angle change what that text means or can mean? For example, perhaps we have failed in discussion to notice key political or homoerotic aspects of a novel or essay; by exploring these aspects, how does this change what the text can signify? How does it alter the meaning that we can make out of the text? You may use responses and discussions from the class listserver as well as class discussions for this assignment."

This assignment is designed to make you identify a discussion that is already--or has already--taken place and to situate your own interpretation and argument in relation to that discussion. The goal of your essay, then, should be to intervene in our discussion--to describe that critical conversation, to explain (in relation to it) what you want us to see, and then to show us how to see it and argue why you want us to see it. Your Essay should at least do the following:

(1) Describe what particular class conversation to which you are responding, in detail (you might find it useful to devote an early paragraph to this). You need especially to explain what blind spot or deficiency in that critical conversation that you are seeking to address and transform;

(2) Analyze in detail the aspect of, approach to, or angle on, the text that you are interested in, spending time demonstrating how it works and what its larger function is within the text;

(3) Demonstrate how your analysis illuminates the text and forces us to change our stance on the text or this issue; in other words, you will need to spend your last several paragraphs explaining how your analysis challenges the meanings that we produced in our class discussion, and even transforms it. This means that you will need to justify the value of your insights. Regarding (3), you may wish to think of the assignment in this way: if you are going to force your readers to slog through a couple of thousand words of your analysis--not unlike climbing a steep hill--there'd better be a pretty good view at the top of that hill. You are addressing readers who have read your text and see it in a certain way; your job is to show us another, equally interesting, way of seeing the text. What does your analysis illuminate that we couldn't see before, and why do you think that this is ultimately an interesting or valuable thing to see?


ii) Long Paper: (30% of grade): This essay should be at least 2000 words, and should not be padded. You should consider it to be just like the articles that you read during the semester, and you should follow the conventions of critical articles. It is probably best to conceptualize this essay as a longer version of the short essay (see above), except that you will be intervening in a current, real, existing discussion occurring between literary critics in print out there. You should treat the articles we read during the semester as models for the kind of argument you need to make, since the aim of this essay is still to challenge and transform existing interpretations of your text in question -- in this case, however, those existing interpretations will gathered from recent published literary criticism. Therefore, you will need to acquaint yourself with the critical literature out there that concerns itself with your texts or issues, and that you should make yourself an expert in your texts' reception and production. You should think of your audience, then, as no longer your classmates but rather as the very critics out there whom you are reading, and who are therefore interested in the same issues that you are.


Important: For both the short and the long paper, you'll find critical articles to be helpful as models, since critical essays usually go about their business in the same way that I have outlined above for the short essay assignment. You may find it a good exercise to read critical articles with an eye to writing your own essays. What problem (and in what critical discussion) is a given critic re-examining? Why? How does that critic intervene in the already-existing critical conversation? How does that critic wish to transform how we see a given poem at hand? Therefore, you may wish to try to emulate a favorite critic's way of setting up (framing) an essay project. This is very different from plagiarizing someone's argument or content; instead, I mean that you should study a given writer or an article that you find both persuasive and beautifully written, and try to understand how that writer structures arguments and makes points.


3) Final Exam: (30% of grade): This will consist of identifications, basic literary history, and an essay.


A Note on Late Work and Extensions: During the semester, I DO NOT ACCEPT LATE WORK. In the case of the close-reading exercise, I will lower your grade on that assignment by 1/3 of a grade per day late (including weekends). In the case of the essay deadlines for the short or long essay, it does not directly affect your grade; you simply lose that opportunity for me to read your work and provide you with feedback. I do this because I do not want anything to do with the hassles of students asking for extensions, bringing excuses, etc. I will only read one draft each of your short and long essay before you hand in the final versions with the end-of-semester portfolio. However, I am happy to discuss work in progress with you during my office hours or by appointment; and will be very happy to talk with you about an essay that I've commented upon.