ENGL 3780: Modern European Literature

Eighteenth-century engraving showing the death of Louis XVI on the guillotine
The English department is offering English 3780: Modern European Literature for the first time in several years. The course will be taught by Dr. Andrew Mattison in Fall 2013, and meet in Field House 1030 on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:00 to 3:15. For registration the CRN# is 57968. There are no prerequisites.

Despite the obstacles of ocean and language, the tumult of European history and the experience of European life remain indelible aspects of the American imagination. The luster of the ancient empires, the dread shadow of the guillotine, and the intellectual and artistic ferment of nineteenth-century Paris and Berlin continue to influence American art, literature, theater, and film, as well as our characteristic ways of thinking. Pursuing a strain of European thought that seems particularly relevant now, this course will explore themes of cynicism, skepticism, resistance, despair, and alienation in the modern literature of continental Europe. It will focus primarily on French and German literature from the late seventeenth century through the early twentieth. Highlights will include La Fontaine’s rewritings (sometimes perversions) of Aesop’s fables; La Rochefoucauld’s bitter advice for living in an unethical and unfair era; Goethe’s anatomy of sorrow; Madame de Staël’s politicized literary criticism; Büchner’s explorations of failed rebellion, political self-destruction, and passionate murder; and Kafka’s depiction of the human experience at the extremes of social, legal, and natural alienation. All texts will be in English translation.

Detailed reading list

Michel de Montaigne, selected essays (trans. Frame)
Jean de la Fontaine, selected fables (trans. Shapiro)
François duc de La Rochefoucauld, maxims (trans. Tancock)
Germaine de Staël, selected essays (trans. Folkenflik)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (trans. Constantine)
Georg Büchner, Danton’s Death and Woyzeck (trans. Price)
Hugo von Hofmannsthal, “Letter of Lord Chandos” (trans. Hottinger, Stern, and Stern)
Franz Kafka, stories (trans. Neugroschel)
Max Jacob, poems (various translators)

The texts by La Rochefoucauld, Goethe, Büchner, and Kafka will be available from the bookstore in inexpensive paperback editions; all others will be on the course Blackboard site. Readings are subject to change.

Assignments will include several short essays responding to, critiquing, or imitating the works studied, and a final exam.

Engraving by Delacroix showing a lion devouring a rabbit

Eugène Delacroix: Barbary Lion