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ESSAY INSTRUCTIONS FOR E212 BRITISH LITERATURE SINCE 1760, CSU FULLERTON SPRING 2011 (01/23/11)

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PROMPTS AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE TERM PAPER

Due Dates. The final draft will be due as specified at the bottom of the syllabus page. I require emailed attachments in MS Word (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.

Key Guides: MLA Format, Grammar, Deductive Essays, Citing Texts, Analyzing Texts, and Editing Tips.

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:

1. Nature in Romantic Poetry. Explore the representation and value of the natural world in the poetry (not the criticism) of any one or two of the romantic poets on our syllabus. For example, based on one substantial poem, how does the way Wordsworth represents and relates to nature differ from Coleridge's or Shelley's or Keats' or Blake's way of doing those things in one substantial poem of theirs? Further suggestions:

A. The concept of the sublime denotes an experience beyond the mind's usual capacity to make sense of things: we may, for example, experience sublimity in looking at the seeming infinity of stars in the night sky, or while in close contact with the great forces of nature (so long as they don't threaten imminent destruction). The romantics generally favor this kind of experience, but they don't necessarily favor it in the same way or to the same degree. So it is possible to write a fine, nuanced paper about how any two romantic poets represent the experience of sublimity.

B. Some romantics have little trouble with using nature as a vehicle for exploring and expressing mental states, or for crafting utterances of great symbolic power. But some resist that usage, and Keats is perhaps the best example of such resistance. How does a poem by Keats show what he thinks poetry should do: how it should deal with nature, how it should deal with the speakers desires or ego, and how it should put these two things together, if in fact it should do that?

C. Shelley is a superb nature poet with a fine eye for natural beauty and process, but he sometimes characterizes his personal relationship with nature in terms of "striving" rather than harmony. Limiting yourself to one poem or to very carefully chosen parts of two poems, attend to the causes and terms, the risks and potential benefits, of this striving between the poet and the natural forces he describes.

D. Of the several romantic poets on our syllabus, Blake seems least like a "nature poet," and his concerns lie primarily with human beings' potential for spiritual progress and their propensity to become ensnared in states of error. But nature is by no means unimportant to Blake, so choose one or a small number of his poems in Songs of Innocence and of Experience and explore Blake's manner of representing the natural world and the significance with which he endows that world.

2. William Blake. Write about one poem from Songs of Innocence and its paired contrary poem in Songs of Experience. What differences, and what continuities, do you find in the two poems? In the course of your analysis, be sure to discuss Blake's doctrine of "contraries" in its relation to the poems you cover.

3. Before this semester ends, we will have read criticism and theory about poetics by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats (the Letters), and Arnold. Choose any two of these authors and compare them on no more than two of the following issues: the creative process, the special nature of poetic language as distinguished from ordinary language, the definition and proper subject/s of poetry, the kind of moral and/or social impact poetry ought to have, and the modern social and historical forces that threaten poetry's status as a valued cultural practice and source of wisdom.

4. Jane Austen's Persuasion. Austen is wary of condemning even characters you or I might find it easy to condemn. Why is this caution so necessary to Austen's success as a novelist? Choose one or more flawed characters and follow out Austen's portrayal of them. What do we know about such characters' actions or motives and when do we know it? How, in Jane Austen's world, do we find out what a person is really like, for better or worse? That might be the topic of an entire paper about any set of characters in Persuasion.

5. Thomas Carlyle. 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 the Professor'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 that emerges from the Professor's spiritual and philosophical difficulties.

6. Christina Rossetti. Examine a few of her 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?

7. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Explore one or more poems by Hopkins in light of romantic poetics (expressive theory, the significance of nature, etc.). To what extent would you argue that Hopkins is a "late romantic"? Limiting yourself to discussion of no more than three of Hopkins' poems, to what extent would you characterize him differently, and why?

8. Oscar Wilde. Examine The Importance of Being Earnest as a comic exploration of the waning Victorian Era's ideals about such things as sincerity, social class, wealth, education, and relations between men and women. To sharpen the paper's focus, limit yourself to discussing mainly the interaction between any two or three characters, drawing as much as possible from their words, actions, and predicaments.

9. WWI Poets. Our WWI poets face a difficult task: they must try to remain true (in retrospect and in the intricate, demanding medium of poetry) with the baffling, dehumanizing, and devastating experiences war brings. In addition, they know that even if they get it right, civilians who read war poetry may reject poetry that conveys unpalatable insights about ugly realities. Limiting yourself to a small selection of poems by one or two poets, explore the strategies you find those poets employing to deal with such difficulties.

10. William Butler Yeats. Yeats frequently links the creative process and poetry itself with great political and spiritual matters such as war and historical transformation, aging, loss, isolation, and death. He also emphasizes the danger and potential cost of poetic insight for those to whom such insight is granted. Choose one or two of his poems and explore them in light of the theme or themes most relevant from among those just mentioned.

11. James Joyce or Jean Rhys. Explore Joyce or Rhys with respect to the ways in which their narrative practice departs from older, realist notions of prose fiction that predominated during the nineteenth century: in your view, what features of your chosen authors' work constitutes them as distinctly modern or modernist?

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:

Simpson 1

Bart Simpson

Professor Burns

English 101

25 December 2005

Why Do I Have To Study English if 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-pager 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.


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