The English Department

The English Department presents a series of courses which aims to accomplish two main goals: to cultivate students’ understanding of and pleasure in literature and to develop their ability to express their ideas fully, accurately, and convincingly in writing. We study in depth a wide range of texts from different genres, texts carefully chosen to provide students a rich exposure to great literature. We also ask students to write frequently throughout their careers, moving from shorter to longer writing assignments as the students mature. Wide-ranging discussions play an integral role in students’ intellectual development during all four years, as we believe that students’ ability to speak articulately about their ideas reinforces their ability to write clearly and precisely about them.

To reach these goals, the Department has established a three-year reading and writing program in which all students follow the same curriculum. The freshman year emphasizes literature in different genres, short writing assignments, and fundamentals of grammar and style. The sophomore curriculum, with its Writing Workshop, is at the heart of the program: in this year students master the essential skills of cogent analytical writing and correct and persuasive style. The junior year provides students with a chance to hone their analytical skills, and polish their critical writing, as they continue to study challenging literary texts. All juniors then take the AP English Literature and Composition and the AP English Language and Composition Examinations at the end of the year.

The English curriculum for the senior year consists of a variety of semester-long seminars, which allow students to pursue areas of particular intellectual interest.


English Courses: 2019-2020

ENGLISH 10. Elements of Fiction. Fall. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class IV. Writing intensive course. Freshman English fall semester. This course provides students with the fundamentals necessary for their future work in English. During the fall, students investigate the techniques of fiction, reading and analyzing short stories and a novel. Formal instruction in writing is an integral part of this course, and students write frequently. In each semester, they are expected to master the writing of a unified paragraph and a unified essay. Throughout the year, students study essential points of grammar, usage, and punctuation. The course aims, above all, to help students acquire a clear and confident voice in speaking and writing about fiction, poetry, and drama.

ENGLISH 11. Elements of Poetry and Drama. Spring. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class IV. Writing intensive course. Freshman English spring semester. For description see English 10. [During the spring, students study the fundamentals of poetry, reading and analyzing a variety of poems from different periods and a Shakespeare play.]

ENGLISH 20. Literature and Composition I. Fall. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Writing intensive course. Sophomore English fall semester. This course introduces students to great works in the Western literary tradition; the focus is on close reading and the critical essay. The course seeks to develop in students the ability to convert their intuitions about the meaning of these complex texts into organized, coherent, articulate assertions. While encouraging students to recognize that these texts are ultimately inexhaustible and irreducible, the course demands that students make clear and forceful general assertions, both in speech and in writing, and support these general assertions with a wealth of detail. Writing assignments are frequent and closely coordinated with the topics covered in Sophomore Writing Workshop. By year’s end, all students are expected to demonstrate a mastery of the protocols of the formal essay.

ENGLISH 21. Literature and Composition II. Spring. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Writing intensive course. Sophomore English spring semester. For description see English 20.

ENGLISH 20W. Sophomore Writing Workshop. Year. The Department. 1 meeting weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Weekly workshops on the craft of writing with particular emphasis on the analytical writing done in the disciplines of English and History. These workshops analyze and develop, one by one, the elements that constitute effective expository and analytical writing. The workshops begin with an analysis of the function of the paragraph and the topic sentence; they move on to techniques for subordinating evidence, strengthening coherence and logical flow, revising paragraphs, and introducing and concluding essays. The workshops finish by addressing the finer details, presenting a variety of sentence structures, and offering rules of punctuation. Along the way, students study how to make good writing better, how to make their ideas more distinct, and, above all, how and why writing is a process of reformulation and revision. The workshops conclude with a writing test and a grammar and punctuation test. Students continue in the course until they have passed these tests.

ENGLISH 30. Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition I. Fall. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class II. Writing intensive course. Junior English fall semester. This course focuses on the techniques of textual criticism appropriate to each of the major genres. Mastering these techniques provides preparation for the Advanced Placement Examination in English Literature and Composition; in addition, students prepare for the AP Exam in English Language and Composition. Members of Class II take those exams at the end of the academic year.  Formal instruction in writing reinforces and expands the work of the Sophomore Writing Workshop. During the fall, the course concentrates on the writing of out-of-class essays.  Students review the essay skills emphasized in English 20 and 21 and apply these skills to writing critical essays that demand further sophistication of approach and discernment.

ENGLISH 31. Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition II. Spring. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class II. Writing intensive course. Junior English spring semester. For description see English 30. [In the spring, the course focuses on the writing of timed, in-class essays on works in a variety of genres.]

The following courses are open during the fall semester to all members of Classes I and II. In the case of over enrollment, preference will be given to members of Class I.

ENGLISH 41. Studies in Medieval Literature. Fall. Ms. Van Norden. 4 meetings weekly. In this course, we will most likely read three of the following four classics of medieval literature: the Old English epic Beowulf, Dante’s Inferno, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In any given year, however, we may decide to focus exclusively on the “Matter of Britain,” i.e., those texts, literary, historical, and quasi-historical, pertaining to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In any case, we are sure to encounter dragons, monsters, giants, knights, and loathly ladies.

ENGLISH 42. Reading Beyond the Book: Essays on Popular Culture. Fall. Mr. Koelz. 4 meetings weekly.  How can we use the tools of literacy analysis to make sense of popular culture?  From Roland Barthes’ study of professional wrestling to Paul Fussell’s reading of The Indianapolis 500 to Gerald Early’s reflections on the Miss America Pageant, essayists have long sought to understand the products of mass culture from a critical perspective, and their investigations might expand our sense of what a text can be.  In this course we will read and discuss writers from the past two centuries who find their material in surprisingly popular places, and you will emulate their work with essays of your own.  Authors will include Roland Barthes, David Foster Wallace, Susan Sontag, Gerald Early, Eula Biss, Paul Fussell, and others.

ENGLISH 44. Gender in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature. Fall. Ms. Ueda. 4 meetings weekly. From stoic World War I soldiers to reluctant mothers, we will explore representations of gender in literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  What kinds of stories are told about men compared to women?  Does an author’s gender play a role in their writing style?  How do we define masculinity and femininity, and what social, economic, and biological forces shape those definitions?  Readings may include fiction by Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, David Foster Wallace, Margaret Atwood, and Zadie Smith and nonfiction by Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

ENGLISH 45. Creative Writing. Fall. Ms. Teevens. 4 meetings weekly. This introductory course will explore the elements and techniques that make for vivid, effective writing across two genres–poetry and short fiction. Students will experiment with a variety of poetic forms and explore the principles of successful storytelling. We will read extensively in this course, using master works of literature as inspiration for our own craft. We will ruminate on the writing process and practice the art of revision. Expect to share your work with others and comment on the work of your peers.

ENGLISH 46. In Search of the American Dream. Fall. Ms. Munro. 4 meetings weekly.  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby interrogates the notion of the American Dream – the myth that an individual can cultivate his own happiness and prestige with the right combination of ambition, work, and self-determination – but what does the American Dream look like beyond Gatsby?  What does the American Dream look like to individuals, or to marginalized groups, who have historically existed beyond the dominant narrative? We will encounter characters whose actions are often determined by their shifting relationship to the American Dream, as they come to recognize that dream as illusory or as they articulate what they have likely known all along – that the American Dream may not apply to them.  Readings will include Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Tommy Orange’s There There. We will consider a selection of short stories, by such writers as Flannery O’Connor, Sherman Alexie, or William Faulkner.

ENGLISH 47. The Novel After Modernism. Fall. Ms. Hutcheson. 4 meetings weekly. Innovations in form, genre, style, and perspective continue to alter the landscape of contemporary fiction. Writers use magical realism about America’s Underground Railroad, invoke magical doorways to illuminate the global refugee crisis, and envision an American landscape post-apocalypse. The subjects of traditional literary fiction have expanded to include a much larger, more inclusive range of voices, and novelists have pushed the formal boundaries as well, with increasing willingness to use fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction to tell their stories. We will read what is being written now, and those authors may include Celeste Ng, Ali Smith, Mohsin Hamid, Colson Whitehead, Esi Edugyan, Karan Mahajan, Zadie Smith, George Saunders, and Valeria Luiselli.

ENGLISH 48. Nineteenth-Century British Literature. Fall Ms. Baldwin. 4 meetings weekly. We will study a range of nineteenth-century poetry and prose in its historical contexts: the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars, the rapid expansion of trade and industry, dramatic shifts in population, imperial expansion, political debates and reforms. We will examine the common cultural factors that shaped the development of so many fiercely individual and revolutionary thinkers. Readings may include Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Ennui by Maria Edgeworth, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Dracula by Bram Stoker, poetry by Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge, John Keats, Byron, P.B. Shelley, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, and more.

ENGLISH 49. The Bible as Literature and in Literature. Fall. Ms. Smedley. 4 meetings weekly. This course may be designated as Religious Studies. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities. Much of Western literature, art, and music is rife with biblical allusions: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah’s ark in the Flood, Abraham’s near killing of his son, Isaac, Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, David’s unexpected triumph over Goliath, the sufferings and faith of Job, and the birth and death of Jesus, to name a few.  Understanding these biblical characters and stories will help you appreciate many of the texts you read in high school or college literature classes, as well as any art history or music history course you might take.  In this semester elective, we will read and study many seminal stories from the Old and New Testament and then apply our newfound biblical knowledge to one or two classics of English/American literature, such as Frankenstein, Brave New World, or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The following courses are open in the spring semester to all members of Classes I and II. In the case of over-enrollment, preference will be given to members of Class I.

ENGLISH 51. Shakespeare as Playwright of His Age. Spring. Ms. Van Norden. 4 meetings weekly. After some brief studies in Renaissance perspectives, we will embark upon a very close reading of three of the following: Henry IV, Part I, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and The Tempest.  If time permits, and the mood takes us, we may also read a number of the sonnets.

ENGLISH 52. Liars, Tricksters, and Misanthropes: Studies in Unreliable Narration. Spring. Mr. Koelz. 4 meetings weekly. How does a tale change when we don’t trust the teller?  Stories can be incomplete, misleading, self-aggrandizing, or naive, yet these “flaws” often captivate readers with an added layer of psychological adventure.  From Dostoevsky’s “Underground Man,” who only leaves the house on Tuesdays, to Alice Munro’s proudly confident child narrators, unreliable storytellers are themselves often the real subjects of their stories.  In this course, we will study a selection of fictional works that require us to evaluate not just the tale but the mind and voice from which it comes.  Writers may include Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ford Madox Ford, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iris Murdoch, J.D. Salinger, Virginia Woolf, Vladimar Nabokov, Alice Munro and others.

ENGLISH 54. Comedy. Spring. Ms. Ueda. 4 meetings weekly.  In this course, we will consider what defines a comedy and the various functions of humor, from laughing at fools to grappling with the absurdism of modernity to critiquing a country’s failure to deal with its colonial past.  Does comedy have a responsibility to attack society’s flaws, or is it supposed to be pure escapism?  Is there a limit to what we should find funny?  Do comedies ultimately reinforce the status quo or question it?  Readings may include Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Happy Days, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

ENGLISH 55. Postcolonial Literature. Spring. Ms. Teevens. 4 meetings weekly.  In this course, we will explore and engage with voices beyond the Western literacy canon.  We will read fiction and nonfiction by a diverse group of writers, including India’s Arundhati Roy, Haiti’s Edwidge Danticat, Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie, Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Antigua’s Jamaica Kincaid.  We will consider how these writers attempt, through language and storytelling, to reclaim their own home spaces and places in a post-colonial era.  We will reflect on the ways in which geography, history, and culture shape and define the fictional experiences and characters we encounter, and perhaps most importantly, we will consider how our own cultural perspectives inform our understandings of what we read.

ENGLISH 56. The Personal Essay. Spring. Mr. Hirsch. 4 meetings weekly. In this course, we will read and write personal essays. A personal essay can be about almost anything, but whatever the subject—whether personal experience, family history, or the vagaries of the world—the writer’s own voice and personality are central. For some classes, we will read and analyze the personal essays of master craftsmen such as Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, James Baldwin, George Orwell, Joan Didion, Mark Twain, and Adam Gopnik; in other classes, students will read and discuss the essays of their classmates. Each week students will write or revise some part of a personal essay; by the end of the course, students will complete a portfolio of six or seven personal essays. Every second or third week, there will be student-teacher conferences about students’ ongoing work.

ENGLISH 57. Fiction Writing. Spring. Ms. Hutcheson. 4 meetings weekly. This course is for students interested in writing short stories and studying what makes successful fiction. We will read widely from a diverse group of writers, and we will talk extensively about the art of writing. We will also study the basic elements of good fiction: plot, dialogue, character development, etc. This course is run as a workshop, so your stories will be read by your classmates, and you will develop your own skills as a peer editor and critic.

ENGLISH 58. Jane Austen. Spring. Ms. Baldwin. 4 meetings weekly. Many readers have argued that Austen’s novels cultivate a narrow and self-enclosed world-view. For some, this creates an ideally limited space for the author to experiment with the novel form and to represent individual psychological experience. Others consider the social world of her novels to be claustrophobic and limiting. As we read, we will question the underlying assumption of this view of Austen’s novels. In our study of Austen’s major completed novels, we will discuss the relationships between irony, shame, satire, social manners, and the novel form.

ENGLISH 59. Mindfulness in Literature. Spring. Ms. Mills and Mr. Worthen. 4 meetings weekly.  In this course, we will explore mindfulness across literary genres, from the novel to short stories, essays, and poetry, and the ways in which literature addresses the most fundamental questions about our existence, our purpose, and what it means to be human.  We will also consider the nuances of how we relate to thoughts and emotions, other people, and the natural world. Readings will include the autobiographical novel My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, short stories by David Foster Wallace and Ernest Hemingway, essays by Zadie Smith, and a selection of poetry by Mary Oliver.  The course will include regular mindfulness practice, weekly personal reflections, and formal analytical essays about texts.