TERM PAPER AND ADVANCE COMMENTS FOR E335 VICTORIAN LITERATURE (UPDATED 4/4/08)
Due Dates. The final draft will be due on the day of the final exam or as specified at the bottom of the syllabus page. I require emailed attachments in MS Word or Corel Word Perfect (or "inline" only if necessary) because it's easier to comment on drafts and maintain records. A one-paragraph topic/argument description will be due by email on the date the syllabus page specifies. See the syllabus for the paper requirement's value as a percentage of the course grade.
General Prompt. Choose one or two assigned texts and, focusing on issues you find relevant and manageable, write a 5-7 page essay specific in its initial thesis, easy to follow in structure, and clear and consistent in style. (Graduates -- if any are enrolled in this class -- should write a 10-15 page essay that engages with both primary and secondary material.)
Developing a Topic: You may want to develop a paper topic by refining or adapting one of the study questions on our authors. If so, send me the question or questions that interest you, and I will gladly help you "spin" a good topic. But here are some you may find worthwhile:
The Victorians as Literary Critics. Before this semester ends, we will have read literary or art criticism by Mill, Ruskin, Arnold, Pater, and Wilde. Choose two of these authors and compare them on one or two of the following issues: the creative process in terms of representation, expression, or "impression"; the definition and proper subject/s of art; the truth status of art; the moral and/or social impact art ought to have; and the modern social and historical forces that threaten art's status as a source of insight. Which author's perspective do you find more valuable, and why? (Alternative: write on a single author instead of writing a comparison essay.)
Thomas Carlyle as Stylist/Cultural Critic. Thomas Carlyle's achievement in Sartor Resartus is to make his Editor (the narrator) present the fictional Idealist Professor Teufelsdrockh in a manner that neither dismisses that character's High Romantic strivings nor sets them forth as prescriptions for the present. Identify some elements of Carlyle's style that allow him to arrive at this balanced presentation of Teufelsdrockh, and explore the message or resolution that emerges from the Professor's spiritual and philosophical difficulties.
Christina Rossetti among the Pre-Raphaelites. Examine a few of Christina Rossetti's poems in light of her connection to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Explore the ways in which Rossetti's concerns and interests lead her away from easy acceptance of Pre-Raphaelite themes and conventions as you identify them. What most strongly characterizes the independent voice she establishes? How does she resist the usual ways in which men represent women in their poetry?
Gerard Manley Hopkins and Romantic Poetics. Explore one or more poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins in light of Romantic poetics (in particular, Romantic hopes and anxieties about language as a medium for conveying emotion and about how best to represent nature and cast its value for human beings). Limiting yourself to no more than three of Hopkins' poems, to what extent would you argue that his work does or does not affine itself with Romantic poetics? Include in your analysis some assessment of the role of Hopkins' Catholicism in his poetry -- how does religion partly shape his work?
Oscar Wilde and the Vital Importance of Deception. Examine Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest with the aid of his critical commentary in "The Decay of Lying." The play is a comic exploration of the waning Victorian Era's ideals about sincerity, social class, wealth, education, and relations between men and women. But specifically what role or roles does lying play in this comedy? Who lies to or deceives whom, for what reasons, and with what results?
Darwin and/or Huxley and the Rhetoric of Science. In The Descent of Man and "The Physical Basis of Life" respectively, Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley both defend scientific methodology from the reproaches of some non-scientific fellow citizens. Either choose one author or both and assess the rhetorical strategy you find at work in his case for scientific inquiry and his exploration of its wider social implications. How convincing and thorough do you find the author's (or authors') attempt to explain evolutionary biology and to draw out its moral/philosophical implications for a broad audience?
Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H.. Alfred Tennyson's long poem traces the speaker's attempt to deal with grief over the early death of a friend. Explore the poetic themes and strategies of interest to you, and try to show how they are related (if they are). A few prominent ones would be the speaker's dramatization of his struggle to generate language adequate to his emotional states, and his attempt to convey a movement from near despair towards optimism and religious faith.
The Politics of Poetry. In her book Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (1993), Isobel Armstrong argues that Victorian poetry often served as a medium for discussing some of the era's major political and social issues outside the intense arena of journalistic prose. Choose one or two poets on our syllabus and explore how their work relates to that thesis: what implications beyond artistic representation do you find at work in the poet/s you choose, and what does the medium itself allow the poet to do that non-fiction might not allow or favor?
Perspectives on Empire in Rudyard Kipling. Rudyard Kipling was sometimes called "the poet of empire" as if he were merely a propagandist for England's "empire on which the sun never sets," but close acquaintance with his work shows that description to be somewhat reductive. Choose any one (or at most two) of the stories we are reading from War Stories and Poems and discuss how the story in question provides a sense of the perspectives of ordinary Brits or "native" colonial subjects: what view of war and empire emerges as a result?
Elizabeth Gaskell's Novel About Almost Nothing. Elizabeth Gaskell's light-hearted novel Cranford is deliberately loose in terms of plot construction and not exactly heavy on "grand events." What, then, is the true focus and subject of this novel? More particularly, what is the relationship between (and relative significance of) actual events, imagined events, and the perspectives offered by major characters on both?
Formatting. Follow MLA (Modern Language Association) style -- this means, mainly, that you must observe the following formatting rules:
1. Observe 1-inch margins (MS Word uses 1 1/2"; change with Word's file menu Page Setup feature).
2. Double-space text and indented quotations alike -- i.e. don't single-space quotations.
3. Avoid extra paragraphing spaces or extra spaces anywhere (after title, etc.). Therefore, tab-indent the first line of regular paragraphs 1/2 inch rather than block-styling them, which would require extra spaces.
4. Indent long quotations of more than four lines from the left; there's no need to indent from the right.
5. Number your essay's pages in header at top right -- use Word's insert menu Page Numbers feature to do that. Then input your last name with Word's view menu "header and footer" feature -- the command "control/letter r" will right-justify the header text you type.
6. Include at top left on separate double-spaced lines your name, the instructor's name, bare course title, and date. Then add your centered title. A typical paper would begin like this:
25 December 2005
But I'm Never Going to England!
7. Introduce and cite sources properly within your essay. See my Grammar Guide for the relevant conventions.
8. Offer a "works cited" list on the last page of your document even if an anthology is your only text. Again, see Grammar Guide for the relevant conventions, or refer to a book every humanities major should have: The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th. edition. Ed. Joseph Gibaldi. New York: MLA, 2003.
Rough Drafts (Optional). If you give me a rough draft or some portion of one, I will read it carefully and offer substantive comments. With regard to stylistic matters, I have a detailed online Grammar Guide, portions of which I include as "autotexts" with the MS Word Track Changes feature as I go through a draft. I will not simply "fix" rough drafts since that discourages students from doing their own editing. Self-expression and the desire to say something important are good reasons to write, but they alone do not make a person a good writer -- that takes time and respect for the medium itself, including its formal conventions.
Research and "Works Cited" For undergraduates, research is optional -- the main thing is to attend closely to the assigned texts. If you like to do outside reading and work with theoretical approaches, that's good, but this assignment is not technically a research paper. Even if you don't incorporate outside research, you still need to include a separate Works Cited page at the end of the essay--that is because you will, of course, be citing at least one of the assigned texts. Use MLA guidelines for citing sources. As for graduates, your longer paper should incorporate at least some secondary material, but I leave the relative balance between primary and secondary material to your discretion. Libraries: Chapman, CSUF.
Additional Guides. I have written many guides to help students with composing, editing, and polishing their essays. Please look over some of this site's materials on writing -- see the Resources/Guides section of your course menu, and click on "Writing Guides" to view the list. Here are links to the main ones: MLA, Grammar, Deductive, Citing, Analyzing, and Editing.
Advance Draft Comments
Your essay doesn't need to offer exhaustive commentary about the work or author chosen, and it doesn't need to provide huge amounts of background information about history, the author's life, and so forth. Instead, examine your text/s on the specific things (problems, issues, themes, etc.) you want to write about, and be willing to grapple directly and in some detail with the actual language of your chosen work. Try to write a paper that leads your readers towards genuine insights based on a patient, well-structured analysis of particular passages (and flexible points of comparison, for comparative essays). If your essay makes a reader feel like re-reading all or some of the literary work in question, you will have done your job well.
1) Thesis presentation in your first paragraph
The paper should go well beyond summarizing, though a little summarizing may be necessary as context for quotations and (in your first paragraph) just to explain what kind of story you are dealing with. The last several sentences of your first paragraph should explain what specific, manageable section of the text you will write about and why you are going to write about it. The "why" part should be more specific than "I want to explore certain characters' actions and relationships, and later on I'll tell you what the point of doing that was." Your reader wants to know what you have already discovered and what you will, therefore, be explaining in detail later. That's deductive structure, as illustrated in the sample paper: here's my argument / now I'm citing and analyzing key passages to show how I arrived at it / now I am wrapping up the argument and reflecting on it.
Thesis Development. In the drafting stages of a deductive essay, the thesis in the first paragraph is often vague -- more like a general topic than a specific argument. In a Deductive essay, one states claims at the outset and then explores them; however, insights tend to develop inductively. That is, what the writer wants to say emerges only gradually, and becomes sharpest towards the end of the paper. The most efficient way to sharpen your first paragraph is to look over what you write in the middle and conclusion of your essay, and tie it all together into a few sentences that will serve as your thesis. That way, you can turn an inductive rough draft into a deductive final draft, and avoid allowing initially vague claims to get the better of you: unless handled with care, ideas quickly become traps.
Avoiding Generalities. Do not begin your first paragraph with filler such as, "Throughout history, man has fallen in love and written poetry." That is an irrecoverable sign that the writer has little of substance to say. Also avoid literary appreciation filler such as "Ben Jonson's plays are immortal.''
2) Argument structure and handling of quotations in the main essay
The aim here is to offer sustained analysis of substantive quotations for which you have provided adequate context, and a conclusion that develops logically from the middle section without simply repeating your thesis. Ideally, there should not be only extremely brief quotations; showcasing a few longer passages and staying with them improves emphasis and structure. In a comparative paper, it's usually best to deal with the texts in two solid blocks rather than to go back and forth between them several times.
3) Grammar and Style
Grammar and style. Key things are consistent verb tense use (present tense is usually best), active voice, and straightforward (not wordy or contorted) sentence structure. A Works Cited page should be included even if you only cite the assigned text/s, and MLA quotation formatting should be correct -- see the sample paper available in Writing Guides. Failure to proofread and edit carefully in the final stages is a major factor in poor grades.
More thoughts on style. Avoid vague introductory language or empty praise of the author in question. A statement like "Throughout history so-and-so has been considered a great author" is padding. Get rid of sentences that function only as warm-up for specific analysis, somewhat like filler. Read your paper out loud, and you will get rid of many filler phrases and awkward constructions. We make mistakes in everyday speech, but at least we don't say things like "objective consideration of contemporary phenomena necessitates the inevitable conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity."
GRADES FOR THE FINAL DRAFT
If you earn a B+, an A-, or an A, that's great. The A range grades mean that I really didn't see major problems in your thesis, your handling of quotations and organization of the essay, or your grammar and style. I found your paper sophisticated and well written. If you earn a B+ or A-, that generally means your thesis was good but that the grammar and style issues kept the paper from being an outright "A." I have marked up a few pages of your essay to indicate any problems with grammar and style, and possibly with minor thesis/content issues if I found any.
If you get a B, that's good, too. A "B" is solid work, with some room for improvement both in terms of content (i.e. thesis presentation and inclusion/handling of quotations), and style/grammar. The paper markup should indicate some areas in need of work.
If you earn a B- or C+, that's no catastrophe, but you can do better. Invariably this range of grades means that grammar/style problems slowed me down when I was reading your paper, even if they didn't keep me from understanding the basic argument. Often additional problems were that the thesis remained somewhat general and that the paper didn't make its case mainly through analysis of specific quotations.
If you do not get at least a C, the grade means that I saw some serious problems with both content/organization and with grammar/style, or that you simply didn't meet the requirements for the paper -- i.e. you turned in a one-page essay with no textual analysis, or some such thing.
An F grade usually stems from plagiarized content, whether in part or in entirety, which is also grounds for failure in the course. Sources must always be documented.