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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2004

T C E603 • E603: Composition and Reading in World Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
30040 MWF
2:00 PM-3:00 PM
par 302

Course Description

Topic: Love in the Western World. Love is perhaps the most pervasive theme in world literature. Coupled with war, death, suffering, knowledge, shame, and redemption, love is at once the most ennobling and basest of human emotions. We will examine the experience of love, its sometimes cataclysmic effects and indefinable inspiration, for the way in which it defines and gives meaning to a variety of human endeavors: nation founding, philosophical inquiry, spiritual redemption, as well as more basic, everyday pursuits: friendship, marriage, and adulterous passion. Part 1: From Epic to Romance. In the fall semester we begin our inquiry into the nature and effects of love with the Greek and Latin classics, which will also serve to ground our understanding of the later Western European tradition. Homer’s Iliad and Vergil’s Aeneid are epics focusing on heroic action, divine injunction, and human responsibility. While epic is generally contrasted with romance and its personal, individualistic concerns, we will look at the ways epic accomplishes its goals, particularly the way it subordinates love to these goals and the effects of such subordination. Later in the semester, a selected reading of Ovid’s Heroides will work as a contrast with (even undermining of) the epic, as Ovid recounts stories of love through the letters of women written from the other side of that epic history. The Greek dramatists, Aeschylus (Agamemnon), Sophocles (Oedipus Rex), and Euripides (Hippolytus) offer depictions of familial love and strife that have become archetypal narratives of human nature for the West. Plato’s Symposium will be studied for the way in which it uses love to ground philosophic discourse. Aristophanes’ comedy, Lysistrata, extravagantly reveals the political and world-shaping powers that sexual desire can wield. Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan, the story of two of the West’s most (in)famous lovers, raises sexual passion to an ennobling and tragic climax. We will end the semester with a reading of Dante’s Inferno, a text that places human love in the context of Christianity, sin, and redemption. Part II: From Lancelot to Lolita. In the spring semester we begin our discussion over again rather than starting from the point at which we left off. Here we will focus not on the transition from the classical to the medieval world but on the generic shift from romance narrative (and drama) to the realistic novel (and beyond) and the changing depictions of and attitudes toward love inscribed within them. Beginning with Chretien de Troyes’ Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart, we will read a variety of stories about love across this generic divide: Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Shelley’s Frankenstein, selected poems of Coleridge, Keats, Browning, and Poe, James’ Daisy Miller, Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, and finally, Nabokov’s Lolita. We will also look at film versions of Williams’ play as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game. What happens to romance when its magical world gives way to the concerns and limitations of realism? What does a romance hero, like the extravagant Don Quixote, look like in a realistic world? What effect does the reading of romances have on “:modern” individuals like Catherine in Northanger Abbey? How can romance render the “mad” worlds of Browning, Poe, and Lolita’s Humbert Humbert disturbingly beautiful?

About the professor: Elizabeth Scala received her PhD from Harvard University and was a Humanities Fellow at the University of Chicago before joining the faculty in the Department of English at UT Austin. Her area of specialization is medieval English literature, with particular emphasis on Chaucer. She is the author of Absent Narratives, Manuscript Textuality, and Literary Structure in Late Medieval England (2002). She is also an avid tennis player and dog-lover. She has two children and two German shepherds.

Grading Policy

Writing (60%): in the fall 8-10 short assignments (2-3 pp); in the spring three progressively longer papers (3-5 and 5-7pp). Final examination 20%. Classroom participation 20%. Attendance rigorously taken.


See Course Description


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