English R1A

Reading and Composition: The First Person, Medieval to Modern

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Fall 2014 Strub, Spencer
MWF 3-4 222 Wheeler

Book List

Bechdel, Alison: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic; Kempe, Margery: Book of Margery Kempe; Prince, Mary: The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave

Other Readings and Media

A course reader with selections from Augustine of Hippo, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hoccleve, John Donne, Walt Whitman, Junot Díaz, and others. Film screenings to be noted on syllabus.


"I am large, I contain multitudes," Walt Whitman's Song of Myself admits parenthetically. This course takes Whitman's multitudes seriously, investigating change and continuity in six centuries of first-person narration. In order to understand what it means to write a literary work in the first person, we will look across genres and historical periods, examining problems and challenges in the "I" from the fourteenth century to the present. How do autobiography, invention, and convention coexist in the lyric poet's first person? How can we recover the voices of historical autobiographers whose texts have been altered and remade by scribes, editors, and censors? What can we make of the first-person narrator who lies?

This course is intended to teach you to pose analytical questions, develop complex and original arguments supported by textual evidence, and participate in a genuine intellectual conversation with your colleagues. Every reading you do in this class should provide fodder for our in-class conversations. Moreover, as we trace the multitudes in the "I," you will write and revise three major essays, along with several smaller exercises.

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