Ruling the Land: The Ecology of Kingship from the MiddleAges to Tolkien
Even before the lady of the lake gave Excalibur to Arthur in Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, from the roots of English literature on sovereignty, a question has persisted: How does the living land determine its human rulers? In this course, we will analyze medieval explorations of this question and trace their influence on modern fantasy literature. First, we will study medieval stories about the land’s consent to be governed: Irish rulers battle for the loyalty of a fantastic bull in the Táin Bó Cúailnge. The theft of buried treasure releases a king-slaying dragon in Beowulf. A hideous land goddess grants sovereignty to anyone brave enough to make love to her in the loathly lady tales. Malory’s elemental avatars guard swords of kingship in the Morte. Next, we will shift to the twentieth century to analyze J. R. R.Tolkien’s adaptation of these medieval notions of kingship in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, written under the shadow of environmentally and humanly devastating struggles for territory in two World Wars. As we trace these ideas, we will touch base with ecocriticism, animal theory, and object-oriented ontology, as well as recent political debates over environmental issues, to explore questions such as the following: How have medieval ideas influenced our stories about governance in the 20th century and today? How does our literature about the land affect our material interactions with it, and vice versa? How have imaginative constructs of the land and environmental politics influenced each other, historically? In what ways does our environment determine our structures of authority, or even our identities as human?
The Many Faces of the Gothic
Dr. Lynne Shackelford
Since its inception in 1764, the Gothic tradition has been characterized by transmutation--ever shifting its forms and its genre conventions, resisting definitions, and reflecting an ever-changing array of cultural and psychological anxieties. As Frederick Botting in his seminal critical work Gothic explains, "The Gothic is mobile; it is always crossing boundaries. In fact, perhaps its chief characteristic is that “in generating and refracting diverse objects of fear and anxiety, [it] transforms its own shape and focus.”
This seminar will trace forms of the Gothic—from foundational mid-to-late eighteenth-century works by Horace Walpole, Anne Radcliffe, and Matthew (Monk) Lewis to Victorian fin de siècle responses to imperialism, urbanization, and scientific advances, to modern depictions of psychosis, and finally to post-modern combinations of the playful and the horrible in the rejection of metanarratives. While students will engage with a number of theoretical readings in the course, particularly important will be cultural studies, psychoanalytic, feminist/gender/sexuality, and formalist/aesthetic approaches.
Novel Foundations: Three Seminal Texts
Dr. Shane Herron
"This seminar will focus on a close reading of three of the most influential novels from its most formative period: Samuel Richardson'stragic novel Clarissa, Henry Fielding's comic novel Tom Jones, and Laurence Sterne's novelty novel Tristram Shandy. The concept of influence presents anapparent paradox: on the one hand, such texts must seem wholly unique, offering a performance that many can appreciate but few could ever repeat; on the other hand, influential texts need to provide a template for the genre they define that is repeatable, that allows for the imitation and copying that allows us to term them "seminal."
Somewhere between the formulaic and the idiosyncratic lies the influential and the seminal. How, why, and when do works achieve this status? We'll attack this problem through both historicist and theoretical methods. First, we'll try to determine why the mid-eighteenth-century led to this profusion of seminal texts through a study of secondary and primary sources. (Furman recently acquired a subscription to Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, a very large database consisting entirely of scans of eighteenth-century manuscripts held by archives throughout the world, and we will aim to exploit the full potential of this wonderful resource.) Finally, we will interrogate the very notion of influence, and examine how these texts both establish and resist the very genre conventions they helped to define."