Upper-Division Seminar: Epistolary Literature

Course Number: ENGL 197
Prerequisites: Upper-division standing, English majors only
Advisory Enrollment Information: This course cannot be repeated and is limited to upper-division English majors only.
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 197
Quarter: Winter 2015
Day(s): T
Time: 3:00 PM – 5:20 PM
Location: SH 2617
Description:

'A letter is a joy of Earth,' wrote Emily Dickinson in 1862. In the age of email and Facebook, letters are both ubiquitous and rare: we spend all day sending each other written communication, but we rarely do so in a way earlier writers would recognize. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when postal systems first became accessible to everyday letter writers' letters were everywhere in popular culture. Almost as soon as there were newspapers, people began writing letter to their editors, and the first novels also structured themselves as series of letters between characters. This course focuses on the theme of correspondence, examining both fictional and authentic letters, and its role in works of philosophy, history, journalism, fiction, and personal letters. While commentators have often seen the letter as a particularly feminine, introspective genre, we will see it showing up across literary realms from the late 1600s to today. Along the way, we will explore a number of questions: is the letter public or private? Is it a democratic or exclusive genre? And why do letters seem to pop up at moments of intellectual, political, and technological change? By reading a variety of epistolary genres in addition to adopting the epistolary form for some of our critical responses, we will investigate the letter's impact on concepts of literature, originality, and the self.