English R1A

Reading and Composition: Reading Other People's Letters

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Spring 2017 Gaston, Lise
TTh 8-9:30 262 Dwinelle

Book List

Austen, Jane: Lady Susan; Carson, Anne: The Beauty of the Husband; Coates, Ta-Nehisi: Between the World and Me; Ortberg, Mallory: Texts from Jane Eyre; Smart, Carolyn: Careen

Other Readings and Media

A Course Reader will also include letters by Austen, Lord Byron, John Keats, and Martin Luther King; poetry by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Patrick Lane; and short fiction and essays by Thomas De Quincey, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allan Poe.


“Oh no, no! the letter had much rather be all your own. You will express yourself very properly I am sure. There is no danger of you not being intelligible, which is the first thing.” – Jane Austen, Emma

In this class we will consider the letter as object of enquiry. How does the act of writing a letter perform, enact, or mask the personality of the writer? What does it mean to write a public letter (or editorial, open letter, or Reply-All e-mail) versus a private letter? In short fiction, epistolary novels, and poetry, we will read the letter as plot device—the misdirected, lost, blackmailing, or love letter—and as form, a way to think about audience, address, and rhetorical style. We will consider the material conditions of letter writing, from folded paper to texting, and the modes of circulation, from mail coaches to cell towers, as a way to map out changes in speed, industrialization, and globalization from the eighteenth century until today.

This enquiry into the letter as form will allow us to think about our own relationship to writing: who we write for, how we achieve rhetorical persuasiveness, and clarity of communication. As part of this process class assignments will include a series of short essays, with a focus on revision, analysis, and clarity of thought.

Back to Semester List