ENGL403: The Gothic Novel

Course Syllabus for "ENGL403: The Gothic Novel"

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What makes a novel “Gothic”?  Scholars have debated this question for decades: some consider “the Gothic” a literary time period, spanning from the 1760s to 1820; others view it as a set of thematic concerns; still others understand it as a literary mode, in which contemporary authors like Stephen King continue to write.  In this course, you will explore these and other definitions as you read a number of novels (and have the option to screen a film), attempting to define for yourself the term “Gothic.”  You will supplement your studies with critical literature on the Gothic novel and literary mode, critiquing and adapting the approaches and theories as you see fit. You will begin the course with an overview of approaches to the literary Gothic and an outline of its stereotypical characteristics and elements.  You will then progress through the course by examining Gothic novels (and an optional film) in three thematic categories (which, as you will see, often overlap): Gothic Spaces, the Monstrous Other, and Gender and Sexuality. The Gothic novel is at one and the same time a specific English literary event and a set of literary qualities that persist in American and European novels and films to the present day.  The Gothic era of English literature begins with the novelist Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and the 1765 publication of The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story.  Some scholars suggest that the last great novel of the era is Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824); it was published in 1820.  The literary Gothic, on the other hand, refers to a set of themes and conventions, whose roots and sensibilities originate in the English Gothic novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  After 1820, books and later films are described as Gothic because their creators have adapted and expanded the plots, narrative devices, and themes of the Gothic era of English literature, bringing new life to the genre by reflecting on contemporary political, social, and economic issues.  What all Gothic literature and film have in common is the exploration of contemporary taboos, creating an atmosphere of terror.  The taboo subjects change over time, but the fear and trembling that they invoke do not.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, the student will be able to:

  • Provide a general description of the Gothic novel as well as the key terms associated with it, and cite specific examples of the conventions, tropes, and terms from the novels the student has read.
  • Distinguish between “terror” and “horror” in the context of Gothic literary studies, and cite examples of each.
  • Explain how the original era of the Gothic novel is consistent with but also diverges from the rise of the English novel of the time.
  • Discuss the differences between the English Gothic novel of the original era and the English Gothic novel of the Victorian Age from the novels the student has read.
  • Explain how the themes of each assigned Gothic novel reflect contemporary cultural concerns.
  • Discuss the significance of buildings – such as castles, abbeys, and mansions – in Gothic novels, and explain the psychological implications of the representation of these spaces.
  • Critically discuss the theme of “otherness” in the Gothic novel, with attention both to the historical significance of the “other” and to the supernatural representation of the “monster” figure.
  • Identify themes of sexuality, gender, and feminism in Gothic novels as part of the novels’ creation of psychological terror.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course you must:
√    Have access to a computer.
√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.
√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).
√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.
√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).
√    Be competent in the English language.
√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Course Information

Welcome to ENGL403: The Gothic Novel.  General information about the course and its requirements can be found below.

Primary Resources: This course comprises a range of free, online materials.  The course, however, makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Unit 1 because it lays the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, exploratory material in later units.  You will also need to complete:

  • Unit 1 Assessment
  • Unit 2 Assessments
  • Unit 3 Assessments
  • Unit 4 Assessments
  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam.  In order to prepare adequately for the exam, however, you will need to work through the assessments listed above, as well as other readings and material in each unit.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: The course should take you a total of approximately 150.5 hours to complete.  Units include “time advisories” that list the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  They should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at the time advisories to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you approximately 22.75 hours to complete.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunits 1.1.1 through 1.1.3 (approximately 3.25 hours) on Monday night; subunits 1.1.4 and 1.1.5 (approximately 2.5 hours) on Tuesday night; subunits 1.1.6 and 1.1.7 (approximately 2.25 hours) on Wednesday night; etc.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.