Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Secrecy and Sexuality in the Modern Novel

ENGL 102.401
MWF 12-1

Literary critics have traditionally seen difficulty and abstraction as signs of aesthetic value. As a result, many of the books that we consider "great literature" are noted as much for what they don't say as for what they do. In this course we read several "difficult" modern classics, paying close attention to the tactics of secrecy, ambiguity, and indirection that they employ. Rather than reading the blanks and silences in these texts as purely formal elements of a modernist style, we read them against the grain and historically. Placing these texts in the context of late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century crises around illicit sexuality (homosexuality, pederasty, incest), we ask what, if anything, they are hiding. Readings by Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson, Herman Melville, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, James Weldon Johnson, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Vladmir Nabokov, James Baldwin, CherrĂ­e Moraga, and Jackie Kay. A few short papers, a longer final paper, final exam.

fulfills requirements