English 90

Practices of Literary Study: Childish Things

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2021 Landreth, David
TTh 5-6:30 106 Wheeler

Book List

Austen, Jane: Emma; Blake, William: Songs of Innocence and of Experience; Coleridge and Wordsworth: Lyrical Ballads; James, Henry: What Maisie Knew; Shakespeare, William: Sonnets; Shakespeare, William: The Winter's Tale; Wilde, Oscar: Complete Short Stories; Wilde, Oscar: The Importance of Being Earnest

Other Readings and Media


Performance video of The Winter's Tale and Earnest; feature films of Emma (Clueless and Emma. [2020]). Short readings from Best & Marcus, Bettelheim, Brooks & Warren, Carroll, Eliot, Freud, Klein, Ricoeur, Sedgwick, Snicket, Vendler, et al. to be distributed via bCourses.




When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (First letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13).


The primary method of literary study is analysis, which means "breaking apart." It's a concept borrowed from the physical sciences. When we break apart a text to subject its elements to scientific attention, do we do it an injury? Do we sacrifice its vitality, or disenchant its magic? To advance our understanding as critics, do we kill our pleasure as readers?


For St. Paul, the answer to these questions is both yes and no. To achieve a mature understanding, we must sacrifice the delights we find in "childish things." Yet, in this world, that mature understanding is impossible: compared to the perfect knowledge promised in the world to come, all human understanding is a distorted and translucent reflection, a "dark glass," that we must interpret in fragments, to puzzle out as best we can.


This semester, we'll be considering the relations among sacrifice, understanding, pleasure, and puzzlement as they surface in three periods of English writing—the Renaissance, the Romantic era, and the turn of the twentieth century—and across multiple genres. The goals are to introduce students to a variety of venues for addressing some of the same thematic problems; to develop our skills of analysis within each of those venues; and to think about the limits of analysis as a method, and what might be on the other side of those limits.


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