English R1A

Reading & Composition: That Way Madness Lies

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2014 Kelly, Tyleen Louise
MWF 9-10 222 Wheeler

Book List

Carroll, Lewis: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass; Hacker, Diana: Rules for Writers, 7th ed.; Hogg, James: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner; Shakespeare, William: King Lear

Other Readings and Media

Our course reader will also include works by Robert Browning, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allen Poe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Nikolai Gogol, Georg Büchner, Joseph Conrad, Viktor Shklovsky, Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Thomas Hardy, and others.



Can we locate the germ of madness in a character or text? Can a mad speaker be believed or relied upon, and by what evidence? Could insane avowals infect the listener and thereby be exported or exchanged? How do we know when madness should be read as grim, tragic, or funny? How does this extreme state reflect oppressions of the political state? This course will examine just how the presence of madness in a text (ranging among figures of paranoid prisoners, demented murderers, psychotic cuckolds, and hysterical mutineers) stimulates a deeper analysis of freedom, truth, intelligence, and citizenship—perhaps proving the disorder to be an ideal device for critiquing social norms.

England’s 19th century was heralded by the attempted assassination of King George III (a long sufferer of mental illness) by religious fanatics. The trial of the shooter (reportedly delusional from earlier battle wounds to the head) led to an extended definition of the insanity plea in English law, and spurred the creation of the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1800. Yet outside of this spectacle, mental illness was chiefly hidden (in madhouses, prisons, bedrooms, and attics)—not treated. The 1800s witnessed much controversy regarding the nature of the disorder and the rights of the mentally ill.

Having waited out the period when George III’s condition made madness taboo on the stage, King Lear was finally performed with its original tragic ending in 1838—the first time in well over a century. In recognition of this occasion, we will initiate our study of madness with this semi-anachronistic piece, and then remain exclusively in the 19th century, though not in England alone. While these questions and proposed texts will hopefully furnish us with material for rich discussions, the primary goal of this class is to improve your writing. It will concentrate on both mechanics and style, learning how to read closely, formulate interesting arguments, gather evidence, and organize claims into four persuasive essays—working through a gradual process of outlining, drafting, editing, and revising.

We might continue to ask in conclusion: Can one ever escape or be cured from these illnesses? Is it possible that the study of mental disorders offers an unfamiliar vantage point from which we can identify our own mental bonds? Can knowing madness help us fathom more deeply our imaginative core?

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