Lit History: Monsters in British Literature

Kristin M. McAndrews, PhD, Kuykendall 618,, 956-3064

English 270 (WI) — Hero or Villain? The Monstrous in British Literature and Film

Monster: a mythical creature that is part animal and part human, or combines elements of two or more animal forms, and is frequently of great size and ferocious appearance. Later, more generally: any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening. A person of repulsively unnatural character, or exhibiting such extreme cruelty or wickedness as to appear inhuman; a monstrous example of evil, a vice, etc.    Oxford English Dictionary

COURSE DESCRIPTION AND GOALS  In this course, we still study literary and artistic of figures of the monster, a central figure in much of British literature, from medieval times through late 20th century literature. Looking at monsters and monstrous behavior across a thousand years of British literature will give us a chance to consider depictions of monsters and how they change (or stay the same) in different historical periods and genres, and how monsters provide insight into the fears and challenges of humankind. We will study literary terms in relationship to the texts as well as literary criticism.

Students will begin with Beowulf and Sir Gawain and The Green Knight—two significant historical texts. Beowulf, an Old English epic poem, is the oldest and the most precious of Old English literature. Sir Gawain, a chivalric romance, is written in 14th century Middle English. This piece relates directly to Arthurian legend, demonstrating myths and fantasies as well as the importance of cultural order. The Tempest by William Shakespeare and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein both focus on the nature of the monstrous—its sources and perpetuation. Students will be required to watch film adaptations both The Tempest and Frankenstein outside of class time to consider the ways in which narratives can be adapted and reinterpreted, yet present the same cultural message. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and The Lives and Loves of a She Devil by Faye Weldon also focus on the dual nature of monstrosity. We will also read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, a stunning novel on the complex nature of monsters. Students will study poetry by Jonathon Swift, Lady Mary Montagu and W. B. Yeats. Throughout the course, we will look at historical and contemporary images that depict specific scenes from these texts always, considering the reshaping, reinterpretation of a text in terms of image.

This course is designated writing intensive. Students write four responses on the Clog tool on the Laulima class site. There will be two short essays and one longer research paper. In addition to a class debate, there will be two formal presentations–one group and a solo.

Course Objectives and Student Learning OutcomesIn English 270(WI), students will become more aware of their own cultural values and biases and how these impact others. Students will gain a deeper and lasting understanding of British culture by engaging in discussions about social and cultural issues that are evoked from the work we read. In addition, the course materials will help students to communicate in an appropriate and effective manner. Through the discussion group roles, students will increase their capacity to analyze issues with an appreciation for different points of views. This course will also improve writing and speaking skills.

By the end of the semester, as a reader and writer, you will demonstrate the following abilities:  1) Integration of complex ideas from academic and public writing, incorporating your own experience and knowledge. 2) Understanding of research as a complex and involved process. 3) Proper use of sources ranging from the library to personal interviews, including  documentation of such sources. 4) Development of complex ideas in various genres appropriate for various audiences. 5) Understanding of writing in a social context, as part of a larger academic or public discourse.  6) Use of logic to analyze and effectively argue a position.