Literature Courses

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Here is a sampling of some of the literature courses that you can take. The descriptions below are taken from selected course syllabi, so course specifics may vary somewhat from term to term. For a complete list of courses offered by the Department of English Language and Literature, see our Course List. For a list of courses being offered in the current academic year, see This Year's Courses.

The Superhero

Drawing of two figures with capes.
An examination of hero figures, ranging broadly from ancient characters such as Gilgamesh to the modern comic book superhero. Literary as well as nonliterary materials (e.g., film, comics, games) will be considered. The objective of this course is to track our cultural fascination with superheroes throughout the past century and place it within a broader literary context of the hero figure in general. Why are we drawn to the superhero? What cultural values are reflected through the superhero? What does the superhero say about us and our society in contrast to earlier societies? How does the superhero compare to older mythologies? Additionally, the course will seek to cultivate active reading and analytical skills alongside essay-writing ability.

Global Shakespeare
ENGL 290

Photo of elderly Japanese man and young Japanese man.
An analysis of the history and forms of international Shakespeare, which may include 20th- and 21st- century print, theatrical, film, and multimedia productions and adaptations from Africa, eastern Europe, southern and eastern Asia, and Central and South America. Through consideration of a variety of examples drawn from around the world, we will aim to improve our ability to meet the challenges and to enjoy the rewards of a global Shakespeare. We will try to understand the relationship between modern adaptation and Shakespearean source, focussing on the paradoxical process that turns the act of reading Shakespeare into an act of speaking.

Early Canadian Literatures
ENGL 313

Painting of cabin.
This course examines a selection of pre-1920 Canadian texts concerning first contact, imperialism, colonization, incipient nationhood, and early multi-racial immigration that participate in the ongoing invention of Canada. This era is home of a surprising variety of genres (the fantasy, the gothic tale), a fascinating range of documents (the letters of the Jesuit missionaries, the journals of pioneer women, the treaties between First Nations and Euro-settler migrants), and forms of writing adapted to suit the particular needs of Old World immigrants in the New World (the long poem on Canada). We will study the early literary history of Canada through a representative selection of its letters, narratives, poetry, and legal documents.

Contemporary Canadian Literature
ENGL 318

Painting of boy talking to Pigoon from Oryx and Crake.
This course examines Canadian Literature written in the latter decades of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Literature is one of many powerful discourses that shape how we think about ourselves and our world. In this course we will analyze how specific works of Canadian literature engage with discourses that shape aspects of contemporary Canadian culture. This is a course about how ideas about “identity” are formed, reformed, dismantled, critiqued, stablilized, destabilized, argued about, remembered, forgotten . . . in language. Questions to be explored include what are the texts teaching us and how? How do you respond to those messages? How does literature do certain kinds of social, political and cultural work? And what (if anything) is Canadian about all of this?

Postcolonial Literature of the Americas
ENGL 322

Painting of Jamaican women washing clothes.
This course introduces students to key themes and reading strategies in postcolonial literatures through a comparative study of selected Caribbean, U.S., and Canadian literatures. We will focus on both written and oral genres and discuss how language practices adapt to and are created in colonial and postcolonial environments. The course is organized, in part, to establish literary and cultural contexts for comparing writers and texts from a range of historical and social positions, including colonial, postcolonial, diasporic, and First Nations writers, from 1492 to the present. Issues to be discussed will include national identity and belonging, resistance and creativity, gender and sexuality, and migration and multiculturalism. The core texts will be literary (short fiction, novels, poetry, drama, essays), but we will also explore the importance to postcolonial cultures of music, dance, religious ritual, storytelling, and public performance.

Creative Writing 1
ENGL 335

Photo of woman with typewriter in woods.
Aimed at encouraging students to develop their creative and critical potentials, the course consists of supervised practice, tutorials, and seminar discussions, and lots of opportunities to write, with units on poetry, short fiction, and creative non-fiction. Students will finish the term with a fat, messy folder of first drafts, and a portfolio of professionally polished work.

American Literature to 1860
ENGL 342

Photo of Frederick Douglass.
A study of developments in early American Literature, possibly including Anglo-European movements such as gothicism and romanticism; captivity narratives and other colonial writings; Afro-American, Native American, and other minority traditions; sentimental and domestic fiction; and indigenous American forms such as the frontier romance, and other minority literatures. We will examine what the literary record tells us about early encounters between European colonists and indigenous peoples, literary contributions to the formation of "America" as an idea, important American cultural figures and movements, and literary reactions to colonial expansion into the West, slavery, and women's place and rights.

Seventeenth-Century Literature 1

Painting of young man with a feather hat holding a skull.
A study of literature by such writers as Jonson, Donne, Wroth, Herbert, Bacon, Milton, Behn, and Dryden. This class will introduce you to the poetry written in seventeenth-century England. Although a perfect understanding of these poems will forever exceed our grasp, we will learn about their relationship to the public life and poetic forms of their time and reflect on the challenges and opportunities they present to modern readers. By making us more perceptive and knowledgeable readers of this poetry, the class also aims to make us more responsive to the experiences that the poems invite us to consider and to the pleasures and sorrows that they invite us to share.

Eighteenth-Century Fiction I

eighteenth-century man and woman.
A selection of late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century fiction by such writers as Behn, Manley, Haywood, Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Topics may include sentiment and sociability, the gothic, and abolitionism. This period, in which the novel is often said to “rise,” was also a period of radical social change. Colonial expansion, an incipiently capitalist economy, and the division of public and private spheres all drive literary examinations of what it means to be an individual. As we think about what makes the novel the novel, we will also take account of the social and historical context of early fiction. We will be exploring the relationships among literacy, genre, gender, economics, colonialism, metropolitan social realignments, and notions of the self in eighteenth-century fiction and its readership.

Contemporary Literature of the United Kingdom and Ireland

Photograph of three people in London.
A study of the contemporary literatures of the United Kingdom and Ireland, including such writers as Byatt, Boland, Drabble, Heaney, Hughes, Rushdie, and Stoppard. The antagonisms of the Thatcher revolution will function as a precursor or parallel to the multiple antagonisms that characterize our period. In both nation-states, these antagonisms were both ancient and modern, dividing and uniting across all areas of human life: class, region, religion, race and ethnicity, migration, gender, and sexuality. Our central objective is to study the literary manifestations of these ancient and modern antagonisms in this period that may come to be called Postmodern when it ceases to be contemporary. This period of the Postmodern was also characterized in literature and other discourses by Postcolonialism and Poststructuralism and by the global literary phenomenon known as Magic Realism.

Explore Further

Interested in finding more courses? See our complete English course list.