online syllabus:

electronic reserves:
password (511)

class handouts:



Literature 511: Literary Criticism

Winter 2009

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office Hours: MW 2:00-4:00 & 9:10-9:40 PM

Office Location: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G

~ or email for appointments ~

Wednesday 6:30-9:10 Pm
Registration # 21673
Pray-Harrold Hall 618



Literature 511: Literary Criticism

Course Description: LITR 511 is a course in which you will investigate a wide variety of literary theory, both past and present, paying especial attention to the critical debates most influencing current practice in the field.  Literary criticism, and aesthetics more generally, has long held a vexed status within the public realm.  How we read, whom we read, and what we read says as much about our own values (and those of the larger culture) as it does about our facility to accommodate the values and the perspectives of others.  Although reading is in itself an ephemeral undertaking, reading theory can be even more so.  Theory is situated in an ambiguous and somewhat unnerving locale: between ourselves and the text, between others and the text, and ultimately between ourselves and others.  We will thus approach our theoretical texts in much the same fashion as we approach our primary texts: at once imaginatively and critically.  We will search for sites of affinity as well as sites of ambivalence, recurring motifs as well as recurring problems and paradoxes.  We will begin by briefly surveying the so-called “classics”--selections from Plato and Aristotle--and then move rather quickly to modernist philosophers like Marx and Freud, writers who have most profoundly shaped not only the interpretation of literature, but the conception of the world in general.  We will primarily concentrate on the critical theories that have arisen during the last half century--deconstruction, feminism, queer theory, postcolonialism, and cultural studies--testing out each theoretical approach in turn through an ongoing analysis of a single literary work: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Course Objectives: By the end of the semester, you will be better able to

* Craft unique interpretations of literary works--and, hopefully, of life itself--by exploring new avenues of thought in class, asking challenging questions of yourself, your peers, and the text, and sharing the upshot of these investigations in writing;

* Comprehend the major debates in literary interpretation and theory, and become conversant in key concepts of literary criticism, from the classical tradition to contemporary practice;

* Participate in these debates (and initiate new ones) by responding to critical essays, articulating discussion questions, interrogating the value of a range of critical positions with regard to literary texts in manifold aesthetic, pedagogical, as well as cultural contexts;

* Engage with the community of scholars and the larger public by acquiring the critical vocabulary and theoretical wherewithal necessary to influence the study and appreciation of literature;

* Articulate and advance your own critical position vis-à-vis a host of theoretical approaches, making clear, compelling, and persuasive arguments about literary works in essays reflecting the basic conventions and current trends of literary criticism. 

Course Books and Materials

The following books are available at Ned’s bookstore (483-6400; 707 W. Cross St.).  If you order them online, make sure to get the same editions by double checking the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for each book:


David H. Richter, ed., Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends (Bedford, 2007; ISBN# 0312415206)

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, ed. Johanna M Smith (Bedford Critical  Edition 2000; ISBN 031219126X)


Both books are on reserve in the Halle library under my name, “Coykendall” (click on the links above for availability); however, we will be using each of them so extensively that you should go ahead and purchase your own copies if at all possible. 

The remaining texts can be accessed online and then printed for free in any of the campus computer labs.  See the Electronic Reserves (ER):, password 511.  **Make sure to bring a copy of the texts that we are covering to class, whether found in the ER or in a book.  You will need everything on hand for group work and class discussions.

Assessment Weights


Weekly Homework & Class Participation

minimum length:

due dates:


Proposal for the Seminar Paper

4 pages

April 1 (8:00 AM)


Conference-Style Presentation on Paper Topic

8 minutes

April 22


Seminar Paper

15-20 pages

April 25 (8:00 AM)

Coursework & Assignments

Consult with me as early as possible in the term to brainstorm possible topics for the seminar paper, which constitutes a large proportion of the final grade with the weekly homework coming in a close second.  Instead of cumulative exams, there will be various kinds of informal assignments due almost every week to ensure ongoing participation and progress: composing discussion questions, writing informal responses, presenting on outside reading, serving as a respondent for the other students, and even a “show and tell” exercise relating theoretical concepts to real-world examples.  Everyone will cycle though these tasks twice over the semester, beginning with a different task based on the group number and then doing the rest of the tasks in turn.  See the Weekly Homework Assignments handout for more detailed descriptions of each assignment (/hmwk.htm)

There is no “group work” properly speaking—i.e. working collaboratively with peers on the same assignment—so you do not have to meet with peers outside of class or have other people besides yourself in a group.  The group designations are simply a way to organize which students do what (and with which texts) each class period: diversifying the topics which we highlight in the discussion, the people who are responsible for bringing key issues to our attention, as well as the skills and approaches which they use to do so.  Most of the class period will be structured around the interactive discussion that results from presenting on the homework

Grading Scale:





























Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours in person (603G Pray Harrold) or by phone (487-0147), as well as through email (acoykenda at at any time.  Email is the most reliable way to reach me outside of the office since the messaging system for my office phone is dysfunctional at best. 

Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues will typically receive a reply before the next class period.  Please limit your emails to inquiries which I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing inquiries the attention that they deserve.  If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, the handouts (/hand.htm), or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then email me if that confusion persists. 

Campus Resources & Safety

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the Academic Projects Center, located in the Halle Library (Room 104).  This support center, open from 11:00-5:00 Monday-Thursday, assists with the research, writing, and technology skills necessary for success in academic papers and research projects.  Another support center, the International Student Resource Center, located in 200 Alexander (487-0370), is dedicated to second-language students from abroad.

Also consider availing yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).  If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the class. 


Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial.  You never need to explain your absences, as I always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class.  However, as per English Department policy, students who miss more than two classes will not be eligible to pass.  Reserve these allowable absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other emergencies that prevent you from coming to campus and make sure not to exhaust them too early in the term.  When you must be absent, contact the other students in your group (/groups.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed.  All absences up to the second are excused automatically, the missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of outstanding issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is important to come on time.  Try to arrive early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking).  Arriving halfway into the period or leaving halfway through the period each count as half an absence.

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all course work on your own, is imperative.  Copying the homework of peers, taking credit for essays that you find on the internet, or recycling your own essays for double credit are all forms of plagiarism, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique benefit, of going to graduate school; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind.  

Plagiarism is, put simply, taking either the ideas or words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  Whether drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration, you must acknowledge when you make use of concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstances.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to specify  as such (e.g., “So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says, “X”).  Any writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source. 

Cheating, plagiarism, or other academic dishonesty results in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment.  Any second instance results in outright failure of the course.  There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor any exceptions to this policy. 


Online Handouts and Links:

Course Syllabus                                            (

Course Schedule                                           (

Electronic Reserves (ER)                             (

List of Group Assignments                          (

Weekly Homework Assignments                (

Guidelines on the Seminar Paper                 (

Schedule for Conferences                             (



[Syllabus last modified January 7, 2009]