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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Henry J. Staten
C LIT 300
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Comparative Literature: Forms, Genres, History

Provides an introduction to comparative literary study which examines how literary forms and genres shape our reading of texts; how these forms and genres change over time; and how literary forms and genres manifest themselves in different cultural traditions. Includes theoretical readings and substantial writing.

Class description

We will read a series of literary works from France, Spain, England, and Germany, and in tandem with these literary works we will read a series of selections in critical theory. The course has two main foci: 1. We will study literary works in terms of the specifically literary conventions that shaped them, and the way in which these conventions evolve over time. Specifically, we will be looking at the conventions of the 'romance' (roughly, 'hero quest') mode as they develop through various genres, from the 'Chivalric romance' genre of the Middle Ages (with its knights in shining armor) through the 'Gothic romance' genre of the eighteenth century (with its ghosts and horrifying villains) and the 'art romance' genre of the Romantic period. Simultaneously, we will look at the way in which the conventions of 'realism' slowly grow, partly within romance and partly as a critique of or reaction to the 'unreality' of romance (as in Lazarillo de Tormes, a narrative from 1550 that we will read). We will conclude with Wuthering Heights as an example of a work that is equally shaped by the conventions of romance and those of realism. 2. We will also pay close attention to the social, political, and economic context within which romance and realism evolve. Chivalric romance developed within the aristocratic, knightly, 'feudal' system; the realist critiques of and reactions to romance arise in the context of the breakdown of the feudal system and the rise of the new capitalist system of wealth based on manufacture. Realism culminates in the form of the realist novel, a form that is closely aligned with the conditions of life of the new urban bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries, as the chivalric romance was aligned with the conditions of life of the medieval aristocracy. And yet, the romance mode persists not only into the 19th but into the 20th and 21st centuries, morphing into new genres as it goes (for example, in the form of the Star Wars romances with their "Jedi knights"). This shows that literary forms have some sort of formal dynamic that can survive the demise of the historical conditions under which they arise; they do not, however, persist in their original form, but undergo changes under the pressure of historical change. Our readings of literary texts will be organized around Frye’s theory of modes, Auerbach’s reading of Chretien in Mimesis, Watt’s account of the origins of realism, and Jameson’s theory of genre as mediation between the individual text and history in The Political Unconscious, Ch. 1, “Magical Narratives. Evaluation: Three essays in which you demonstrate careful reading of the literary and critical texts, and interpret the literary texts using the critical terms that we are studying.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction


Recommended preparation

No prerequisites.

Class assignments and grading

One 2-3 page essay in the first two or three weeks of the quarter, a 4-5 page mid-term essay and a 4-5 final essay. (double-spaced, of course)

Graded entirely on written work.

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Henry J. Staten
Date: 09/05/2013