This is an advanced writing course. In some ways it may remind you of the introductory college freshmen writing course you took a few semesters ago. We will talk about how to write plainly and clearly, about the ways of constructing arguments, about how to synthesize materials to compose a research paper, about punctuation, documentation -- about, in short, everything we can think of having to do with writing essays; and we will read and discuss full- length books, stories, and essays.
The course will, however, differ from the introductory course in that you will be asked to use these skills to write about imaginative literature and film in such a way as to cover all the aspects of the arts in our culture: words, music, pictures, landscape, architectural spaces. We will delve into how artists transform their experiences into art and how readers and viewers respond. We will deal with "high" and serious art and pop culture. We will delve one particular genre of film, the realistic melodrama, and two genres of literature: gothic romances and memoirs. Ultimately we are looking to see if art has a useful function in our era, and if and how our personal memories of books, films, music, pictures and spaces have helped to make us what we are today. Since there is no specific art prerequisite for this course, our perspective and discussions cannot be specialized or narrowly-focused on any art form: you do not have to have taken a film study course to do well here. The background knowledge assumed is that of the typical generally-educated reader who has attained Junior status in a senior college.
You are required to write three essays; to pass an open-book midterm exam and open-book final exam (which will take the form of writing essays in class), and to give one short talk. There will also be two take-home tests. There will be no quizzes or closed book exams.
Writing About Film Adaptations of Contemporary Novels. You have two choices. You can write either about E. L. Carr's A Month in the Country and the 1987 Channel Four/Orion film with the same title; or about Graham Swift's Last Orders and the 2001 Columbia Tristar film with the same title. Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages.
Writing about Gothic Romance. You have four choices: You can write 1) a comparison of Stephen Frears's filmed adaptation of Mary Reilly with R. L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly; or 2) of Jane Campion's film, The Piano and Frears's Mary Reilly with Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly; or 3) of Jane Campion's film, The Piano and Frears's Mary Reilly as gothic romance; 4) or of R. L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly. For this last it is advised that you read the material in the Broadview Press edition of Jekyll and Hyde. Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages.
In Search of Lost Time
Talk is primary and writing secondary. I believe everyone can learn to write more clearly and enjoy writing more if he or she would only learn to talk on paper, to use the real language he or she might use in the classroom or any other natural situation which demands a certain coherence. Much of the advice you will find in John Trimble's Writing With Style is based on this belief. A good writer must learn to think of his material as something he is really communicating to someone else. The success of a communication in whatever media is measured not only by how the reader or listener receives it, but by whether the reader or listener truly understands and can apply to themselves what the artist has to say.
Thus, each student will be asked to prepare a coherent seven to fifteen minute talk for classroom presentation on the readings from one of our books which is due the day he or she is scheduled to talk upon. The talks will begin the fourth week of the semester. Fundamentally what you must do is invent a clear instrumental thesis-statement and develop it coherently and concretely.
The whole class will listen and try to respond; their response will tell the student whether he or she has made him or herself clear; the ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened when he or she or another student talked will (it is hoped) teach everyone something about the basis of writing -- again, clear thinking in clear language which comes naturally to the speaker-writer.
Each student is asked to hand in an outline or cards (hand-written or typed) which he or she used to talk from, and I will return this material with the grade for the talk in the following session.
In lieu of a midterm, you will be asked to write an open-book in-class film review. The in- class film review is to be Jane Campion's film, The Piano and you will be expected to have read the Cambridge Film Handbook for the film which has a number of essays, reviews and much information on this film.
In lieu of a final, you will be asked to write an open-book in class essay which will cover the memoir (Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, and the literary-critical historical book of popular literature for adolescent girls, Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth: On the trail of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames.
There is a specific format for writing reviews which we will learn about. We will discuss how a good literary review usually includes some or all of the following points:
These two in-class exercises are also intended to test whether you have read all the assigned books with care, watched all the assigned films with sophisticated criteria in mind, and to reward those who attended class and listened to the short talks. They will provide practice on how to select, elaborate upon and judge books and films.
I will hand out two 10 question short answer test which you can answer at home. The first will be on Tim Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing about Film and will be handed out about one-third the way through the semester. The second will be on John Trimble's Writing With Style and be handed out about two-thirds the way through the semester. The answers required will not be a single word, but you should not have to write more than a short paragraph to answer each. You type the answers at home and bring them in to class on the day the test is due.
Assumptions behind this course : I think that 1) something is to be gained by coming to class, and that we all can learn a great deal from one another; 2) good writing can be discussed in simple words, and exemplified, learned, practiced, and improved through imitation of models; and 3) the only way to improve one's writing is by much practice over a long period of time.
I have observed that people who write well are people who read a lot; thus:
By the end of the term there should be eight grades for each student on my roster. These I will average together to form the final grade. I should have three grades for the three essays, one for the short talk, one for the first in-class film review, one for the essays on the books that make up the final, and two for the tests. All shorter and these writing assignments and the short talk are due on the day set; if your essay is late, the grade will be pulled down one element for every session, it is late. You must give your talk on the day cited on the short talk schedule so as to ensure only one person will talk on a given day. If you do not give your talk, you must take an F and that will be factored into your final grade.
For the final grade for the course I take into account 1) your attendance record; 2) your participation in class; and 3) if you came for help if you needed it in planning the essay, thinking up a perspective; organizing and revising it. A teacher can tell when an essay or short talks is done with care, is something really thought about, something for which a genuine self- educational effort was made. I respect serious hard work and reward it when I see it. I will also reward someone whose work improves.
DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Plagiarism is defined by the GMU English Department as follows:
'"Plagiarism means using words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles consulted is not sufficient."
If I suspect you of, or catch you at, plagiarising, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail or report you to the Chair of my Department. I am serious about this.
Without an appointment:
Write to me by e-mail. My strongly preferred address is Ellen2@JimandEllen.org Please do not write to me at email@example.com. I rarely look at that address and cannot take attachments through it. You can write me 24 hours a day at Ellen2@JimandEllen.org; I look at my mail at least twice a day, and I write back. Be sure to type the e-mail address to which you wish me to send my reply at the end of your message. Please feel free to write me. I will provide thorough commentary on any drafts of essays that you send me through my e-mail addresses.
You can call the phone in the office I use (993-1176) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. However, remember that I am on campus only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning; the secretaries will not call me and simply put notes in my box. Also, leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way: no-one stands guard over the boxes. If you send an essay through an attachment, it doesn't always come through. The safest speediest way to get a late essay to me is still to bring it to the next class and give it to me warm hand to warm hand.
With an appointment:
Private conferences are available by appointment Thursday, 3:30 to 4:20 pm; Friday, 9:20 - 10:20 am; and Saturday, 1:50 - 2:30 pm in Robinson Hall A455. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets.
The College of Arts and Sciences runs a University Writing Center where you will find tutors to help you with writing. Their phone number is 703-993-1200. Here is a description of the place and its services:
"The George Mason University Writing Center is a writing resource open to the entire university community, offering free tutoring in a comfortable, supportive atmosphere. During face-to-face and online sessions, trained graduate and undergraduate tutors form a variety of disciplines assist writers at all stage of the writing process. Tutors emphasize positive attitudes and stratgies that help writers at any level learn to evaluate and revise their work in order to be more confident and effective writers."
To find out more and to start to use the services offered, go to http://writingcenter.gmu.edu and http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/resources/index.html/
In Class: Course introduction: brief explanation of syllabus. Short talks and Essay #1 outlined. The class will watch the 1987 Orion Film, A Month in the Country..
Outside Class: Read for next week E. L. Carr's A Month in the Country, Trimble, Writing with Style , Chs 1-5, and Corrigan, A Short Guide for Writing about Film, Chapters 1-3 . Be prepared to be assigned one talk for the term from one of the five books (see Short Talk schedules for choices and dates).
In Class: Short Talks Given Out. We'll discuss Trimble and Corrigan and apply what Corrigan says to a comparison we will do together of E. L. Carr's novel and the film we saw. I will bring the film in again and show a specific scene which you will be asked to write about briefly.
Outside Class: Begin reading Graham Swift's Last Orders (aim to finish by Sept 19th/20th); read for next time Trimble, Chs 6- 8, Corrigan, Chapter 4.
In Class: Further discussion of Trimble and Corrigan and opening discussion of Swift's Last Orders. The class watches the 2001 Columbia Tristar film, Last Orders.
Outside class: Finish reading Graham Swift's Last Orders. Bring in a plan for writing Essay #1: you can choose to write a comparison of the E. L. Carr's A Month in the Country with the Orion film we saw, or you can write a comparison of Graham Swift's Last Orders with the Columbia Tristar film we saw.
In Class: PLAN FOR #1 DUE. Short Talk 1: A Month in the Country: Mise-en- scène, music and costume in the film; Short Talk 2: A Month in the Country: The Relationships among the characters in the book compared to the relationships among the characters in the film; Short Talk 3: Last Orders: Mise-en-scène, music and costume in the film; Short Talk 4: Last Orders: The Relationships among the characters in the book and film.
Outside Class: Write Essay #1 for next week. Read Corrigan, Chapters 5 and 6, and from the Cambridge Handbook of Jane Campion's Piano, the "Introduction" by Harriet Margolis, "Music in the Piano" by Claudia Gorbman, and Ann Hardy's "The Last Patriarch".
In Class: ESSAY #1 is DUE. Short Talk 5: A Month in the Country: A comparison of the point of view of the film and of the book; Short Talk 6: A Month in the Country: The Restored Painting in the Book and in the Film: What Does it Stand for and How Is it Used?; Short Talk 7: Last Orders: A comparison of the shifting point of view in the novel and the use of an ensemble cast in the film; Short Talk 8: Last Orders: The Theme of Death in the Film and in the Book: The Unusual Funeral, What Does It Stand for and How Is It Used? I will hand out the take-home test on Corrigan and go over the three essays in Margolis's handbook on The Piano.
Outside Class: See directly below; also start thinking about what favorite book from childhood you want to write about for Essay #3. This might be a good opportunity to find a copy as the class for Oct 3rd/4th is cancelled. You must make your own plan for rereading your chosen book; if you mean to concentrate on a film you must make a plan to resee your chosen film, see if you can research it (you need four sources) and if you can find the book (or screenplay) from which it was adapted.
Class is cancelled because the lecturer has to be out of town. However, *you are expected for this week to see* on your own the 1993 Australia Film Commission, South Wales and Miramax film, The Piano. I will put a copy on reserve at the Johnson Center. The film is commercially available.
Outside class: Read from the Cambridge Handbook of Jane Campion's Piano, John Izod's "The Piano, the Animus and Colonial Experience," Leonie Pihama, "Ebony and Ivory: Constructions of Maori in The Piano and Stephen Crofts' "Foreign Tunes": Gender and Nationality in Four Countries' Reception of The Piano Write the answers to the take-home test.
In Class: Take-home test on Corrigan is due. Short Talk 9: Using Corrigan's criteria for the film history approach, discuss Margolis's "Introduction" to the Handbook (pp. 1-41); Short Talk 10: Using Corrigan's criteria for national cinema, discuss Phiama's "Ebony and Ivory" in Margolis's Handbook (pp. 114-134); Short Talk 11: Taking The Piano to be a woman-centered melodrama, discuss Hardy's "Last Patriarch" in Margolis's handbook (pp. 59- 85); Short Talk 12: Evaluate Gorbman's "Music in the Piano" in Margolis's handbook (pp. 42- 58). We will go over how to write a film review.
Outside Class: Prepare to write film review.
In Class: MIDTERM: In Class Open Book Film Review of Jane Campion's The
Piano. This will not take the whole of the class time. In the last hour of the session, we
will discuss what is Gothic romance? We will go over the student models for Essay #2; read,
print out and bring to class "A Comparison of Robert
Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Valerie Martin's Mary
Reilly", "Gothic Landscape in Trollope's An Eye for an Eye", and "Illusions or Ghosts? Three Ghost
Outside Class: Read for Session 9 Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and begin reading Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly.
In Class: Short Talk 13: The Use of a Double Self in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The class watches 1996 Tristar PIctures Mary Reilly
Outside Class: Finish reading Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly.
In Class: PLAN FOR #2 DUE. Short Talk 14: Analyze how the point of view in the books Mary Reilly and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde produces two very different books using the same material. Short Talk 15: By Describing and Comparing Ada McGrath (The Piano) and Mary Reilly in the film and book, define a gothic heroine. Why were Holly Hunter and Julia Roberts chosen for this role? Short Talk 16: Visual/Camera Techniques in the film Mary Reilly and Pictorial Imagery in Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Outside Class: Write Essay #2, read, print out and bring to class the student models for Essay #3: "On Rereading The Wind in the Willows", "Go Ask Alice: A Believable Diary About Drug Use", "A Rediscovery of the Velveteen Rabbit", "E. B. White and Charlotte's Web, "A Memory to Live By: Where the Red Fern Grows", and the Instructions for how to write an abstract. Read the first half of Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth (pp. 1-98).
In Class: ESSAY #2 IS DUE. Short Talk 17: Honeybunch and Bobbsey Twins: Early 20th Century Popular Literature for Children (Mason's The Girl Sleuth, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-47); Short Talk 18: A Falsifying Ideal: Nancy Drew (Mason's The Girl Sleuth, Chapters 4-5, pp. 48-98). We will go over the student model for Essay #3; we'll also discuss how to write an abstract and annotated bibliography. Essay #3 is due the date of the final.
Outside Class: Finish reading Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth, Trimble Chs 9-13; Plan for #3 is due November 20th; print out and bring to class Practice I.
In Class: We'll go over Practice I. Short Talk 19: Other Sleuths and Heroines (Mason's Chapter 6-7, pp. 99-139). I'll lead a discussion of life-writing, the relationship of memory and self, and introduce Mary McCarthy's Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood.
Outside Class: Read for Session 12 about half-way through Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood; print out and bring to class Practice II,
In Class: PLAN for #3 DUE. We'll go over Practice II. Short Talk 20: Mary's earliest years ("Yonder Peasant, Who Is He?", "A Tin Butterfly"); Short Talk 21: Adolescence ("The Blackguard," "C'est le Premier Pas Qui Coûte," "Names"); Short Talk 22: Puberty ("The Figures in the Clock" and "Yellowstone Park"). I will hand out the take-home test for Trimble which is due Dec 4th.
Outside Class: For Session 14, finish Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood.
In Class: Short Talk 23: Mary's Grandmother ("Ask Me No Questions"). Short Talk 24: The Distortions of Memory and Imagination in Memories of A Catholic Girlhood. Short Talk 25: Compare any two films we've seen in the course (you can choose them) from the point of view of ideology (as defined by Corrigan).
Outside Class: Write Essay #3 which should be prefaced with an abstract and include an annotated bibliography of 4 sources. Prepare to write two in-class esssays.
Bring with you printed out Research Essay #3 (it should have an abstract and annotated bibliography). In class writing of one essay on a choice of themes to be announced on Dec 4th. It will cover Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth, and Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood.