2023-24 Courses

Note on graduate course numbers and levels:

Please note that each course carries, along with the ENGL which identifies it as an English Department course, a three digit number, the first digit of which describes the general level of the course, as follows:

5 - MA students and U3 undergraduates (usually Honours BAs);

6 - MA and PhD students only;

7 - MA and PhD students only. 

Note on maximum and minimum enrolments for graduate seminars:

5Graduate courses are limited to a maximum enrollment of 12 (for 6/700-level courses) or 15 students (for 500-level courses). 500-level courses with an enrollment of fewer than 7 students, and 600- or 700-level courses with an enrollment of fewer than 4 students, will not be offered except in special circumstances.

Note on registration in graduate courses:

Courses are open to students in Department of English programs. Students from outside the Department may enroll if space permits and if they have appropriate preparation for the course. In this case, students must seek the permission of the instructor and the Graduate Program Director to register.

500-level courses are restricted to an enrollment of 15 students and are open to Master's and advanced undergraduate students. B.A. students must receive permission from the instructor before registering for a 500-level course.   As a general rule, M.A. students are permitted to take two courses at the 500-level and Ph.D. students may only exceptionally register for 500-level courses after receiving permission from the Graduate Program Director. But PhD students should certainly not overlook 500-level courses when making their course selections, particularly if the subject matter of a particular course makes a good fit for a PhD student’s research interests. Similarly, an M.A. student who has a good justification for taking a third 500-level seminar should contact the Graduate Program Director to be given permission to register for it.

Please click on the “full course description” link below any of the following course titles to find a detailed description of the course goals, the reading list, and the method of evaluation.

ENGL 501 16th Century

Sex Differences and Sexual Dissidence in Early Modern Culture

Professor Kenneth Borris
Fall 2023
R 8:35‐11:25

Full course description

Description: A study of diversities of gender, sexual expression, and sexual affiliation in early modern culture from the later fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, encompassing viragos, prostitutes, sodomites, tribades, sapphists, and hermaphrodites among others, as they were represented within different literary forms, intellectual disciplines, and discourses. My own approach will combine sexual history, literary historicism, and historical formalism, and other approaches are welcome. Surveyed disciplines and discourses will include, with varying degrees of emphasis, medicine and the other former sciences (such as physiognomy and astrology), as well as verbal and visual erotica, theology, philosophy, and law. Our readings of primary sources will also encompass imaginative fictions such as Marlowe’s Edward II, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Milton’s masque Comus, and, in translation, Nicholas Chorier’s Dialogues of Venus and some of Michelangelo’s sonnets, as well as Montaigne’s essay on friendship and Caterina Erauso’s remarkable autobiography. Depending on the size of the seminar, each member will likely do two seminar papers, each in a different part of the term. According to their own particular interests, members will determine their own topics for seminar presentations and hence related discussions, as well as discussion topics in the final period. Insofar as possible, presentations will be grouped in a series of informal “conference sessions” on related matters according to a schedule we will establish at the start of the course, that will fully take into account the scheduling preferences of each member. This format aims to create a diverse, open, and responsive seminar.


  • General Course Reader, Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650
  • Supplementary Course Reader with various additional readings including Milton’s Comus
  • Marlowe, Edward II (edition is optional)
  • Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (edition is optional)
  • Caterina de Erauso, Memoirs of a Basque Lieutenant Nun (paperback)

Texts will be available at the Word Bookstore, 469 Milton Street, 514.845.5640.

Evaluation: Two seminar papers, about 9/10 pages of text each (12 point), to count 45% each; class attendance and participation, 10%.

Format: Seminar with papers and discussion.

Average Enrollment: 10 to 12 students.

ENGL 505 20th Century

Modernist Archives

Professor Miranda Hickman
Winter 2024
T 14:35‐17:25

Full course description

Description: As a field, Modernist Studies, focused on early twentieth-century experimental writing, has changed shape significantly over the past thirty years, in part through a major wave of archival work of these decades a kind of “archive fever”—which considerably expanded and diversified understandings of what was associated with “modernist literature.” As Ronald Schuchard suggested at the turn of the twenty-first century, there was no more exciting time to be working in the area—as new concepts of modernism stepped out of the archives: a wealth of hitherto unpublished material became more widely accessible, destabilizing received conceptions of both what counted as modernist and what “Modernism” stood for. This new availability took various forms: as a moment of heightened canon debates, these years saw a wealth of intentional efforts to recover from the cultural archives many writers and texts once integrally part of early twentieth-century modernist culture, yet generally subordinated or erased by the later academic consensus about the range and definition of “modernism.” Moreover, surfacing from the archives was a trove of material from “grey canons”: contextual material such as relevant manuscripts, letters, and historical records, which contributed considerably to revising (as Adrienne Rich puts this, “re-visioning”) how commentators were interpreting modernism’s inherited texts.

Now that this first wave of modernist archival work is recently past, how might it be used to reassess what “modernist literature” entails—and reread it newly? How might we draw upon material from the cultural archive to intervene in received narratives about both modernist literature and the early twentieth-century modernist cultures from which it emerged? How might the idea of the “cultural archive” be used more broadly, in a Benjaminian sense, to read modernist novels and poems themselves as “archives” of thought and feeling? This course reflects on what Robert Spoo calls “new riches” from the modernist archives, considering now these might help to “make new” our concepts of modernism—and read experimental modernist texts with fresh eyes.

Evaluation  (provisional): Brief essay (20%);  book review (15%); oral presentation (20%);  longer essay (30%);  participation (15%). 

Texts:Readings will include work by T.S. Eliot, H.D., Zora Neale Hurston, James Joyce, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Muriel Rukeyser, and Virginia Woolf. 

Format:  Seminar.

Enrollment: 12 students.

ENGL 506 Studies in 20th Century Literature

Life Writing

Professor Robert Lecker
Winter 2024
W 11:35‐14:25

Full course description

Description: This course focusses specifically on the genre called “life writing” in contemporary literature and art. Although the roots of life writing can be found in conventional forms of autobiography, biography, and memoir, more recent experiments have broadened our conception of the genre to include life stories by unknown or marginalized people, bio blogs, diaries, letters, intimate disclosures, reality television documentaries, standup comedy performances, criminal confessions, graphic biographies, and multimodal narratives that can be visual, digital, musical, or theatrical. The course is organized around an extraordinary range of recent life writing texts and artworks that raise questions about the construction and performance of human identity. We will engage in discussion and analysis of these different forms of life writing. Students will also have the opportunity to focus on creative assignments related to the course texts.

As Susan Cheever has said, “memoir is the Barbie of literary genres. It exaggerates the assets and invites the reader into an intimate alternative world, sometimes complete with a dream house. We hungrily buy and read memoir even as we express contempt for it. Memoirs are confessional and subversive; memoirs drop names. Memoirs print whispered secrets on their covers in 24-point type. Memoir is so much the genre of our time that sophisticated readers look for memoirs in fiction, hunting for clues to the ‘real story’ with a fervent appetite for details of the writer’s real life.” The Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, draws our attention to another aspect of life writing: it is about each of us and how we tell our self-generating story. As Pamuk says, “Whatever we call it—false consciousness, fantasy, or old-style ideology— there is, in each of our heads, a half-legible, half-secret text that makes sense of what we’ve done in life.”

The works studied in the course present an array of personal narratives about obsession, incest, confession, crime, sexuality, race, indigenous identity, parental bonds, crazy childhoods, pain and failure and triumph. We will also look at the self-referential portraits of Cindy Sherman; the performance installations of Tracey Emin; celebrity autobiography; and musician memoirs.

Students enrolled in the course should be prepared to read, on average, one full-length memoir per week, and should be prepared to discuss their own creative work in class.


Note: All texts will be available from The Word Bookstore (469 Milton).

  • Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home
  • Harrison, Kathryn. The Kiss
  • Laymon, Kiese. Heavy
  • Page, Elliot, Pageboy
  • Whitehead, Joshua. Jonny Appleseed
  • Yuknavitch, Lidia. The Chronology of Water

Evaluation (tentative): Group project (20%); short response essays (20%); individual life writing project or final paper designed by each student (40%); attendance, discussion questions, and participation (20%).

ENGL 512 Contemporary Studies in Literature and Culture

Instructor TBA
Winter 2024
R 11:35‐14:25

Full course description

Description: TBA

Texts: TBA

Evaluation: TBA

Format: TBA

ENGL 545 Topics in Literature and Society

The Specter of Marx: Literature, Aesthetics, Culture

Professor Sandeep Banerjee
Winter 2024
M 14:35‐17:25

Full course description

Description: The course seeks to illuminate a central question: how has historical materialism (aka Marxism) shaped our understanding of literature, aesthetics, and culture? It draws on the writings of Karl Marx, but more significantly, on works by scholars and critics who have taken up Marx’s insights to shape the uneven and contested terrain of materialist literary and cultural criticism. The course examines some of the key issues and debates in this critical tradition, namely, the relationship of literary form to history (for instance, the emergence of the novel; debates on realism, modernism, and irrealism), the concept of allegory, the culture industry and commodity aesthetics, the idea of utopia, and the critical practices such as symptomatic reading and dialectical criticism. It also aims to understand how these critics theorize some of the concepts that are central to their critical enterprise: history, ideology, totality, reification, dialectics, modernity, and structure of feeling. Furthermore, the course tracks the persistence of these issues, debates, and concepts in literary and cultural studies in our contemporary moment in categories such as “national allegory,” “magic realism,” “global novel,” “peripheral realism,” “global modernism” and “world literature.”

Texts (tentative):

  • Raymond Williams – Marxism and Literature.
  • Selections from works of other theorists including but not limited to: Gyorgy Lukacs, Theodore Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Mikhail Bakhtin, Raymond Williams, Frantz Fanon, Fredric Jameson, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Gayatri Spivak, Aijaz Ahmad, Roberto Schwarz, Kojin Karatani, and Silvia Lopez.

Evaluation: Participation: 10%; short response papers (3-5pp. x7): 35%; paper proposal: 15%; final paper: 40%

Format: Seminar

ENGL 568 Topics in the Dramatic Form

Contemporary British Drama

Professor Sean Carney
Fall 2023
T 14:35‐17:25

Full course description

Prerequisite: Open to Honours and MA Students.

Description: The Brexit vote in June 2016 and the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union has turned the world’s eyes towards Britain and raised pressing questions about British cultural identity and the relationship of “Britishness” to the history of immigration to England.

This course is concerned with representative plays by both established playwrights and the new generation of young dramatists in the United Kingdom. Our particular focus will be the representation of cultural and ethnic diversity in post-Imperial England.

The syllabus will be made up of plays that demonstrate an interest in the unique aesthetics of theatre while simultaneously evincing social commitment and an engagement with politics.

Our syllabus is organized into three units: the political play pre-Thatcher, the political play post-Thatcher, and the political play post-2001.

We will consider a variety of different dramatic responses to the transformations of British identity in the face of various significant historical events.

Examples of such events include the de-colonization of India, the decline of the British Empire, the increased waves of commonwealth immigration to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish Troubles of the 1970s, the dismantling of the Soviet Union following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the siege of Sarajevo and the war in Bosnia, the changing face of terrorism in the post 9/11 and 7/7 era, the financial crisis of 2007-08, globalization, the out-sourcing of labor to India and the growth of transnational capitalism, the “special relationship” between George W. Bush Jr. and Tony Blair, the international proliferation of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, and most recently the exit of the UK from the European Union.

Evaluation (Provisional):

  1. Seminar presentation with accompanying written component, 20%
  2. Two ten-page essays, 30% each
  3. Class participation, 20%

Required Readings: TBA

Instructional Method: Seminar discussions.

ENGL 585 Cultural Studies: Film

The Cinema of Precarity 

Professor Derek Nystrom
Thursdays at 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: Over the past 20 years or so, the term “precarity” has been used by theorists and activists to identify the particular kinds of social and economic vulnerability generated by current conditions under globalized capitalism, especially the fraying of the social safety net and the attenuation of other forms of worker protection as part of capital’s demand for a more “flexible” workforce. According to many critics, these conditions have generated a new “precariat” which is made up of not only the industrial and post-industrial working class but also undocumented immigrants and other marginalized workers not normally represented by labour movement institutions, as well as some highly-credentialed professional workers who have become newly exposed to the vicissitudes of “contingent” employment. This course will survey the theoretical and political work that has generated the concept of precarity—from the Italian “autonomist” movement to more recent North American theorists of “post-Fordist affect”—and utilize this body of thought to examine a series of recent films from around the globe which attempt to visualize and narrate precarious life. How do these films depict our changing social order? What narrative trajectories do they create for characters who are struggling (and sometimes failing) to locate themselves in this social order? Do the films indicate a precariat coming into being as a class-in-itself, or even a class-for-itself?

Films: The weekly screenings will include films by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Laurent Cantet, Pedro Costa, Michael Haneke, Andrea Arnold, Jeff Nichols, Ramin Bahrani, Kelly Reichardt, Jia Zhangke, Mati Diop, Chloé Zhao and others.

Reading: Essays by Zygmunt Bauman, Angela Mitropoulos, Michael Denning, Gilles Deleuze, Maurizio Lazzarato, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Jacques Rancière, Giorgio Agamben, Paolo Virno, the Institute for Precarious Consciousness, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, Lauren Berlant, Linda Williams, Karl Schoonover, and others.

Evaluation: Class contribution; class presentation; response papers; final term paper.

Format: Seminar.

ENGL 615 Shakespeare

In Search of the Natural Fool in Shakespeare 

Professor Wes Folkerth
Fall 2023
F 8:35‐11:25

Full course description

Description:  Shakespeare’s fools are a class of character that audiences, readers, and even scholars of today typically have enormous difficulty understanding. In this seminar we will study Shakespeare’s works that represent some of the natural fool’s many guises as a familiar social type in early modernity, including The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry the Fourth Part One, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, and King Lear. Along the way we will also consider the enduring cultural influence of the humanistic “cult of folly” in the work of Erasmus, as well as early modern accounts of fools in the writings of Robert Armin and Timothy Granger. Recent work on the history of intellectual disability by scholars such as C.F. Goodey and Tim Stainton will provide important context for our efforts as we trace the fool’s connections to other closely-related figures such as clowns, fairy changelings, melancholics, and madmen. 

Texts: Specific texts are TBA.

Evaluation: Seminar presentation 35%; long paper 50%; participation (includes 2 written presentation responses) 15%.

Format: Seminar.

Average Enrollment: 15 students.

ENGL 620 Studies in Drama and Theatre

Interdisciplinary Approaches to Improvisation: Theories, Aesthetics, Politics

Professor Katherine Zien
Fall 2023

Full course description

Description:  Improvisation is a multifaceted, complex concept and practice, with many connotations, definitions, and applications. Improvisation can mean (among other things) “making do,” playing, resisting oppressive structures through detournement and detour, as well as turning spontaneity into automaticity and reflex. This course will be kaleidoscopic, generating reflection on how improvisation can contribute to our research – and how the interdisciplinarity of improvisation might shake up our preconceived notions of what we are doing as scholars, researchers, and artists. We’ll consider the idea of improvisation through multiple areas – from music, dance, and theatre to poetry, anthropology, Black politics, medicine, disability studies, and critical theory.

Improvisation is aesthetic, social, political, and material. Improvisation encompasses a variety of sometimes contradictory modes and possesses multiple, intersecting genealogies. Alongside our discussions, readings, and essays, we will include practical exercises in improvisation so as to ask: what are social, psychological, political, and aesthetic components and ramifications of improvisation? In what ways might improvisation be a helpful contribution or intervention now? Can improvisation be transformative, or does it threaten to reiterate and bring to the surface our unconscious biases? In what ways has our capacity for improvisation been exploited and subverted by state and neoliberal forces– and how can we “improvise better?”

Required texts (a possible list):

  • Georgina Born, William Straw, Eric Lewis, Improvisation and Social Aesthetics (2017)
  • Danielle Goldman, I Want to Be Ready
  • All other readings will be available as PDFs on myCourses.

Evaluation: Participation 10% discussion forum 20%; in-class group or solo presentation 30%; final essay 40%. 

Format: Seminar, group discussion.  

ENGL 661 Seminar of Special Studies

Genres of Contemporary American Historical Fiction

Professor Alexander Manshel
Fall 2023
F 14:35‐17:25

Full course description

Description: In the period since the 1980s, several key institutions of American literary canon formation—from the National Endowment for the Arts to literary prize organizations, from university syllabi to literary criticism itself—have transformed in ways that either expressly or implicitly promoted historical fiction as contemporary American literature’s most prestigious and politically potent genre. Moreover, American fiction’s “historical turn” has been especially pronounced among racially and ethnically minoritized writers, whose increasing recognition and consecration has been almost exclusively in the idiom of historical fiction. What are the political, aesthetic, and literary-historical stakes of American fiction’s decisive turn toward the past? What new possibilities and problems arise when, as Toni Morrison famously put it, “nothing ever dies”? Working comparatively across ethnic literary traditions, this seminar will focus on a handful of contemporary fiction’s historical sub-genres, including contemporary narratives of slavery, the World War II novel, the multigenerational family saga, and allegories of the so-called “Canon Wars.” Our readings will include a selection of the novels below, paired with a wide range of critical texts.

Tentative Reading List:

  • Toni Morrison, Beloved  (1987) and Playing in the Dark (1992) 
  • Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (1999) 
  • Philip Roth, The Human Stain (2000) 
  • Ronyoung Kim, Clay Walls  (1986) 
  • Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) 
  • Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine  (2002) 
  • Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (2004) 
  • Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach (2017) 
  • Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (2010) 
  • Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing (2016) 
  • Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, A Kind of Freedom (2017) 
  • Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) 
  • Tommy Orange, There There (2018)

Evaluation (tentative): 

  • Participation (15%)
  • Research Presentation (20%)
  • Conference Paper (25%)
  • Final Research Paper (35%) 

 Format: Seminar.

ENGL 662 Seminar of Special Studies

Public Scholarship: History, Theory, Practice 

Professor Paul Yachnin
Winter 2024
F 14:35‐17:25

Full course description

Description: In this seminar, we will work toward an understanding of the history of the consolidation of humanities scholarship within the institutional space, practices, and culture of the academy and the turning of the humanities away from a broader, more variegated public life inside and outside the academy. We will develop a theoretical understanding of what the public is and what publics are. We will pay attention to the wide range of innovative public scholarship initiatives that have grown up over the past few decades as well as to a number of exemplary public scholarly undertakings from the past. 

The historical account we will build of the academic institutionalization of humanities research and publication and our theoretical understanding of “publicity” (i.e., the condition of being public) will be foundational for our experiments with the re-mobilization of humanities scholarship—experiments that will also draw on recent and past initiatives in public scholarship. Throughout the seminar, we will engage in serious intellectual play designed to teach our scholarship in the humanities how to move inside and outside the space of the academy.

Texts: Most of the readings will be provided on myCourses. Some are online (links provided). You will have to buy Katina L. Rogers’ book, Putting the Humanities PhD to Work. It’s available to buy online as a paperback or an electronic text 


  • Journal 25 
  • 5-minute presentation 5 
  • Research/reflection paper (10 pages approx) 20 
  • Public scholarship project 35 
  • Participation 15



Your journal is, first of all, for you to do some thinking by writing at each step of the course. But it is also something you do for marks, so you have to write at least a page (about 350 words) about each week’s readings and/or discussions. Think about writing twelve journal entries in all. You can write about the discussions we’ve had in class, but do undertake to devote most of your thinking by writing to two or three or four unfolding and growing questions and/or ideas that you find particularly important and interesting. Your journal certainly doesn’t have to be formal like an essay. After all, it is mostly for you and about your thinking, questioning, arguing. But it’s also going to be read by me, so make it reader-friendly. And you can be as experimental and creative as you want to be in your journal: artwork of many kinds is often a useful way to bring ideas and questions forward.


From near the start of the course, you’ll be thinking about the public scholarship project and research/reflection paper that you will want to write. I’ll work with you and provide a sounding board for your ideas. We’ll put on a course conference in the middle of the term. You will have five minutes to present your ideas for the public scholarship project that you will be developing and for the question and/or argument that you will develop into your research/reflection paper. You will also make use of powerpoint (three slides max). This part of the course is based on the three-minute thesis program, where graduate students compete for prizes in recognition of the clarity, succinctness, value, and appeal of their research. We’ll take the competition out of what we do, but leave in the emphasis on clear, succinct, and engaging accounts of valuable research. We’ll do prep work leading up to the course conference.

Public Scholarship Project 

There are almost no boundaries or limitations for what you decide to develop as your public scholarship project. Imagination is key. And also the thinking we will be doing together (and with the wonderful people who have agreed to visit our seminar) about how to teach our scholarship how to move, how to engage with people outside the academy, how to address problems and questions that we share with others inside and outside the seminar and the university. 

Of course, you can build out from the area of research that will be the focus of your graduate work here at McGill. And we will brainstorm and discuss the great range and variety of public scholarship that has been done in the past and that is being done now.  

I should say that you probably won’t be able to complete the kind of public scholarship projects that involve actual groups of people outside the university. Undertakings such as bringing Shakespeare performance to people serving time in prison or sharing contemporary Indigenous literature with Indigenous people require a lot of time and careful work to build relations of caring and trust—more time than the Winter term will afford us. But it might be possible to develop detailed plans for such a project and to begin the research, consulting, discussing, and relationship-building that could be foundational for such a project.  

Note also the public scholarship is not only a kind of outreach program where scholars export their scholarship in accessible form to people outside the academy. Public scholarship, at its best, involves sharing scholarship in open dialogue with others and in ways that foster teaching and learning that goes both ways.

Research/reflection Paper 

Your research/reflection paper will develop a topic of your own devising. It will be focused in the direction that best suits your interests. So it could develop, for example, an argument—independent of your research project—around the question of public scholarship in the social media environment of the present day—say how the speed and unpredictability of social media enables or challenges or even disables public scholarship or  how publication on social media creates risks for public scholars, especially scholars working in areas such as the history of sexuality or Critical Race Theory. Along similar lines, it could be a study about what we could learn from the public scholarship of the past. Or, if this works better for you, you could focus on what you learned from your own public scholarship project. Or, of course, it could pivot between reflection and research and bring into conversation both your public scholarship project and a particular question or idea that emerged from your public-facing work.

Participation requires your vital presence in class. You have to come to each meeting of the seminar with questions, ideas, puzzlement (which you have to speak about), expressions of joy or sorrow. It’s true: there is no such thing as a stupid question. 

ENGL 690 Seminar of Special Studies

Black and Indigenous North American Literatures in Relation

Professor Camille Owens
Winter 2024
W 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: In this course we will employ multiple approaches to reading black and Indigenous North American literatures in their formal, theoretical, and historical relations. In recent years, scholars within North American black studies and Indigenous studies have made frequent calls to trouble the boundaries between the two fields; while black and Indigenous political organizers have underscored the urgency of narrating histories of colonization, slavery, and black and native political struggles together. In turn, both raise questions about how black and Indigenous histories and literatures historically came to be studied, theorized, and narrated separately. This course asks students to pursue this question, by examining the cultural and political differences, literary canonization, and academic disciplines that have shaped the terms and housed separate literary traditions. With these considerations, we will engage in multiple practices of reading that test separateness and highlight relation. Reading “in relation” will take multiple forms across the course: comparison, conversation or correspondence, solidarity, entanglement, and embodiment, in the case of authors who are both black and Indigenous. Authors may include: Pauline Hopkins, E. Pauline Johnson, Angel De Cora, Zora Neale Hurston, Julie Dash, George Elliot Clarke, M. Nourbese Philip, Layli Long Soldier. These readings will be paired with works of critical literary history and theory by figures such as: Sylvia Wynter, Édouard Glissant, Tiffany Lethabo King, Denise Ferreira da Silva, David Kazanjian, Frank Wilderson, Jenell Navarro, Kathryn Walkiewicz, Mishuana Goeman, and others. While focusing on particular cultural, political, and social relations of black and Indigenous writings, this course asks students to think more broadly about the formation of ethnic literary traditions and the political borders of literary study.

Evaluation: 2 oral presentations, midterm paper, final research essay, participation.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 722 Milton

Milton’s Poetics of Liberty

Professor Maggie Kilgour
Winter 2024
W 14:35‐17:25

Full course description

Description: If the name John Milton means anything these days, it probably summons up a rather cartoonish bogey man. Milton is often invoked as the ultimate patriarchal dead white male, the guardian of Christian orthodoxy and tyrannical oppressor of women. As a writer also he was condemned by Harold Bloom as “the great Inhibitor, the Sphinx who strangles even strong imaginations in their cradles (The Anxiety of Influence), and by Gilbert and Gubar as a “bogey” who stifled female creativity in particular (The Madwoman in the Attic). In his own life, however, he was called a libertine and known above all as a radical who spoke out for divorce and freedom of speech and worked for a regime that overthrew the established Church and government and even executed the King. A Christian, he held idiosyncratic views that were heretical by the standards of the day and still punishable by death. His political writings have inspired later revolutionary movements in France, America, and Russia. His poetry has also provoked both men and women to respond to his vision by developing powerful new forms of expression, including the Romantic lyric, gothic, and science fiction.

Critics have often debated, however, whether after the failure of the political revolution to which he had devoted so much of his life, Milton turned to poetry as sheer escapist consolation, a retreat into the world of the imagination, or as a continuation of his fight for liberty through the political power of the imagination itself. In this course, we will read some of Milton’s main political writings on freedom, but concentrate on his poetics.  While we will look at some of Milton’s early and final poetry, we will concentrate on Paradise Lost. Milton’s epic is both a lament for the loss of human freedom and an attempt to create a poetry that might recover it.  We will consider how Milton uses genre and poetic form – imagery, syntax, narrative structure, rhetorical structures, and, generally, word play and especially puns – to encourage his readers to think in new ways. How might he, as a passionate believer in the free will of the individual, encourage us to think also in non-Miltonic ways? How might his poetry  – as poetry, that is, a specific way of using language and imagery to think be liberating even today?

NOTE: Given the focus of this course on close readings as the foundation for all discussion, some previous training in poetic form will be an enormous advantage.

Texts: (these are good and reasonably priced, but if you have another edition that is fine: the Penguin and Longman especially are also very good. While these editions are ordered through the McGill bookstore, secondhand copies can sometimes be found at The Word on, appropriately, Rue Milton, or through AbeBooks) 

  • Stella Revard ed, John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) 
  • Barbara Lewalski ed, John Milton: Paradise Lost (Blackwell, 2007) 
  • Selections from the prose, online 
  • Selected criticism, online 

Format: Seminar.

Evaluation (tentative): 5 page close reading of early short poem 10%; Editorial exercise 10%; Reception project 10%; Participation (includes class Prolusion) 20%; Final 20 page paper 50 %.

Enrollment: 15 students.

ENGL 726 Narrative Prose of the 18th Century

Richardson’s Clarissa and the Theory of the Novel: Philosophy, Passion, Piety

Professor David Hensley​
Winter 2024
T 14:35‐17:25

Full course description

Description:  This course will focus theoretical questioning on Samuel Richardson’s million-word-long Clarissa, which many readers since the eighteenth century have regarded as the greatest European novel. From week to week, our readings will canvas various approaches to different parts of this gigantic text. Insofar as possible, the syllabus will orient our discussion toward an analysis of the terms in which Clarissa articulates a theory that some of Richardson’s contemporaries viewed as an encyclopedic “system” of thought. We will be concerned with interactions or disjunctions between large conceptual areas such as Richardson’s celebrated “new” psychology, his account of moral judgment, and his critique of aesthetics. Clarissa is a self-consciously intertextual work. To relate our understanding of the novel’s argument to Richardson’s literary-cultural and intellectual context, we will read a wide range of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts drawn from the traditions of the emblem book, libertine poetry, the Restoration stage, sentimental romance, erotic narrative, theological controversy, British moral philosophy, and early feminist criticism. (To supplement seminar discussion we will also view performances of operas by Lully, Purcell, Händel, and Mozart as well as films by Dreyer, Rohmer, Breillat, and Almodóvar.) The logic of this course, as of Richardson’s novel, gives particular attention to the conflicting ideological and representational claims of allegory and theatricality. It is hoped that such textual and conceptual analysis will enable (1) a theorization of problems in Clarissa and (2) an understanding of Clarissa’s contribution to the “history of problems” – problems not only of literary form but also of gender, psychology, ethics, law, politics, and religion – that constitute the theory of the novel. 

Texts:  The recommended version of Clarissa is the one-volume Penguin paperback (ISBN 0140432159 or 9780140432152) edited by Angus Ross. The books for this course will be available at The Word Bookstore (469 Milton Street, 514-845-5640). One or more photocopy packets may supplement the books on order. A full schedule of assignments will be available at the first meeting of the seminar. Our readings, in addition to Clarissa, will probably include assignments in the following texts. 

  • Emblems of Francis Quarles and George Wither (seventeenth century) 
  • John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester (1647-80), poems 
  • Thomas Otway, Venice Preserv’d (1682) 
  • John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (1690) 
  • Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks (1711; rev. 1714) 
  • Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (1725) 
  • William Law, An Appeal to all that Doubt the Gospel (1740) 
  • Sophia, Woman’s Superior Excellence over Man (1740) 
  • Samuel Johnson, Rambler No. 4 (1750) 
  • Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) 
  • Denis Diderot, Éloge de Richardson (1762) 
  • Vivant Denon, “No Tomorrow” (1777)  

Films:  A screening session will usually be scheduled every week. Viewing the films is a requirement of the course, and attendance at the screenings is an expected form of participation. Most screening sessions will last about two hours in a supplementary period following the seminar; some films will be longer. (The following list of films is tentative. The choice of films will depend partly on the prior viewing experience, interests, and preferences of the seminar participants.) 

  • Lully, Atys (1676) and Armide (1686) 
  • Purcell, Dido and Aeneas (1689?) 
  • Händel, Agrippina (1709), Semele (1744), and Theodora (1750) 
  • Peter Watkins, Culloden (1964) 
  • Catherine Breillat, Fat Girl (2001) 
  • Mozart and da Ponte, Così fan tutte (1790) 
  • Krzysztof Kielsowski, Dekalog 6 and A Short Film about Love (1988) 
  • Carl Theodor Dreyer, Gertrud (1964) 
  • Eric Rohmer, The Marquise of O... (1976) 
  • Pedro Almodóvar, Talk to Her (2002) 

Evaluation: A substantial amount of careful reading, a class presentation, participation in discussion, and a 20-page paper will comprise the work in the course. The evaluation of this work will be weighted as follows: paper (60%), presentation (20%), and general participation (20%). Regular attendance is mandatory. 

Format:  Seminar. 

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students. 

Note on Enrollment: Permission of the instructor is required. As a rule of thumb, enrollment is limited to 15 MA and PhD students. All others must consult the instructor before registering. Students who are interested in taking this seminar but cannot register in Minerva should contact Professor Hensley. (Please bear in mind that electronic registration does not constitute the instructor’s permission.) 

ENGL 730 Romantic Theory and Poetry

Romanticism, Labour and Longing

Prof Carmen Mathes
Winter 2024

Full course description

Course Description: How does Romantic poetry capture what it means to work, labour or serve; to be productive or creative; to work for oneself or for others? Whether the choice to work is made freely or under coercion—including under threat of suffering, imprisonment or death—working is transforming and transformative. Working can reveal that effort produces change (the garden grows, the house is built) that may change us in turn: we see that we are capable of altering the world in material ways. Yet the burden of work, the ways labour is captured to serve others’ ends, transforms the world too, and these are transformations with the power to invent and maintain racial, gendered, class-based, and other hierarchies. In this course, we will tarry together with theories of labour by thinkers from Hegel and Marx to Da Silva and Berlant. We will read poems by John Clare, Ann Yearsley, Phillis Wheatley Peters, William Cowper, Charlotte Smith, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and others. At the same time, historical systems and developments not limited to the Transatlantic slave trade, revolutions in agriculture and industry, and Romantic-era print culture will help us to contextualize Romantic representations of labour and laboriousness in the formal and stylistic interventions of poets and other writers in this period. Don’t be fooled by the course description: history is important to the reading together of theory and poetry too.

Required Texts: The Broadview Anthology of Romantic Literature Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition Joshua Clover, Riot, Strike, Riot Denise Ferreira Da Silva, Toward a Global Idea of Race Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism + excerpts, essays and chapters by G. F. W. Hegel, Hortense Spillers, Julius S. Scott, Jennifer L. Morgan, Fredric Jameson, Karyn Ball, Lenora Hanson, and more

Evaluation: Six “Notework Journal” assignments, participation and attendance (total 20%); Research Essay Proposal (15%); In-Class Research Presentation (20%); Final Research Essay (45%)

Format: Seminar

ENGL 733 Victorian Novel

Enter the Detective

Professor Nathalie Cooke
Fall 2023

Full course description

Description: With the repeal of knowledge taxes in Britain, in an increasingly saturated marketplace, newspapers began to vie with another popular form of print media for readers’ attention: the novel. Readings will explore how Victorian fiction and newspapers entered a sustained dialogue that would have wide-ranging effects on their mutual development. While authors began to incorporate aspects of newspaper culture into their fiction, newspaper readership was bolstered by an appetite for the themes and narratives of crime, mystery, and detection.

In this course, we will survey the increase of newspaper/periodical circulation in this period, noticing ways fiction writers leverage the content and form of newspapers to engage their readers. Class discussion will touch on the emergence of the consulting detective in life and in literature and aim to identify emerging narrative frameworks for detective fiction. We will also play close attention to perspective as we negotiate fictional narratives woven with intrigue and misdirection, as well as narratives emerging from newspapers’ episodic and often anonymous installments.

Primary Course Texts:

  • Wilkie Collins, “Who is the Thief?” (from The Atlantic Monthly, 1858); reprinted as “The Biter Bit” in Queen of Hearts (1859).
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret (1862).
  • Andrew Forrester (James Redding Ware), The Female Detective (1864).
  • Charles Reade, Griffith Gaunt or Jealousy (1866).
  • Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868).
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (from Beeton's Christmas Annual, 1887).
  • Catherine Louisa Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective (1894); first published in The Ludgate Monthly, London, February-July 1893.
  • Assigned secondary readings will be available via myCourses.

Evaluation: In-class participation and critical interpretation assignments (with written and oral components); collaboration on a library exhibition in December 2023; term paper.

Format: Socratic lectures, guest presentations, in-class discussion and analytical exercises, on-site work and visits to special collections reading room as McGill library renovation work permits.

ENGL 761 20th Century Novel

Mid-Century British Fiction 

Professor Allan Hepburn
Fall 2023
R 11:35‐14:25

Full course description

Description: In Bowen’s Court, Elizabeth Bowen writes disparagingly about the high-toned, modernist discourse around culture from the perspective of the war: “And to what did our fine feelings, our regard for the arts, our intimacies, our inspiring conversations, our wish to be clear of the bonds of sex and class and nationality, our wish to try to be fair to everyone bring us? To 1939.” The period from the late 1930s through the 1960s has been, by and large, neglected in scholarly discussions, despite its being a time when public engagement weighed heavier in the balance than private feeling or personal commitment. This course investigates British fiction in the years immediately preceding the Second World War, as well as fiction written during the war and its aftermath. In this period, problems that affected British domestic politics cannot be dissociated from international situations. The bombing of London, the election of the Labour government, the dissolution of the British Empire, the formation of the Commonwealth, the years of high taxation and food rationing, the rebuilding of blitzed cities, the globalization of anglophone literature—all have important effects on fiction. In the postwar period, British fiction merges with Cold War tension and a consciousness of responsibility with regards to nuclear testing and the possibility of nuclear war. The novels on this syllabus indicate ways in which British writers related to modernism or forged new aesthetic goals. In this course, attention will be paid to pageants, firestorms, apocalypse, love in the time of war, alienation, existentialism, citizenship, trials, risk, comedy, bathos, melodrama, and realism.

Possible Texts (a final list will be established in June): 

  • Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca 
  • George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia 
  • Rex Warner, Aerodrome  
  • Patrick Hamilton, Slaves of Solitude  
  • James Hanley, No Directions  
  • Nevil Shute, Pied Piper 
  • Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day  
  • Elizabeth Taylor, At Mrs. Lippincote’s  
  • Rose Macaulay, The World My Wilderness  
  • Graham Greene, The Third Man  
  • Barbara Pym, Excellent Women  
  • John Wyndham, The Chrysalids  
  • Alan Sillitoe, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner  
  • Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means

Evaluation (tentative): Short paper 30%; long paper 50%; participation 20%.

Format: Seminar.

ENGL 778 Studies in Visual Culture

Avant-Garde Film: Revelation and Resistance

Professor Ara Osterweil
Winter 2024
M 11:35‐14:25
Mandatory Screening: TBD, 3475 Peel St, Rm 101 

Full course description

Description: Avant-garde cinema constituted one of the most innovative and controversial sites of twentieth century visual culture. This course facilitates an in-depth look at the most vital period of postwar experimental film in North America, during which many of the most celebrated international artists turned towards the medium of cinema to transform the limits of representation and perceptual experience. Note that this course is not intended as a history of the entire avant-garde cinema, nor a course that is solely designed for students of film history. It is, rather, a course in experimental poetics that uses the cinema as a case study for how to think and create differently. I welcome artists, poets, misfits, rebels, and dreamers drifting in all fields.

Collapsing the fraught distinctions between high and low culture or what art critic Clement Greenberg famously described as the irreconcilable divide between “avant-garde” and “kitsch,” experimental cinema of the 1960s and 70s reshaped the codes of vision and values implanted by the mass media. Expanding the conventions of cinematic structure, form, duration, and projection to accommodate new ideas of consciousness and the body made possible, in part, by the changing mores of the sexual revolution, hallucinogenic drugs, and the new availability of inexpensive 8mm and 16mm cameras, avant-garde film transformed what was acceptable to show on public screens.  In doing so, it not only challenged the mode of production of the commercial/ industrial cinema, but also the social and sexual mores of American culture.  Intimately linked to many of the rights revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, experimental cinema became a site where diverse and often marginalized groups could re-imagine and reconstruct their social identities and desires.

Although this course will introduce a few of the pioneers of avant-garde cinema before the 1960s, its primary focus is on filmmakers who came of age during the countercultural period, including Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, Ken Jacobs, the Kuchar Brothers, Bruce Conner, Yoko Ono, Paul Sharits, Jonas Mekas, Bruce Baillie, Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Rubin, and Barbara Hammer. There will also be several guest lecturers and artists visiting throughout the term, including some contemporary experimental filmmakers who have been influenced by the artists we study.

The course is an advanced seminar in which students will be expected to make a major contribution to discussion during each class meeting. In addition to copious readings in film studies, art history, and critical theory, there are required oral presentations.  Students who fail to regularly participate in class discussion will not succeed in the course.  There is also a mandatory screening every week. Students who are not able to attend the screening every week should not register for the course.  As the seminar only meets once a week, attendance at every seminar meeting must be a serious priority.  

Required Texts: TBD


  • Participation: 15% 
  • Oral presentation (15 minutes) and short write up: 15 
  • Short Exercises throughout the term: 20% 
  • Final Paper, Creative, or Curatorial Project: 50%  

Format: Seminar and mandatory weekly screenings.

Back to top