Course Description

ASTU 400B: Books on Trial – Modernism, Aesthetics, and Obscenity (3 credits)

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Lorraine Weir, English
Course Coordinator: Justin Yang, English
Term: 2
Day and Time: Mondays, 12-2:50pm
Brock Hall Annex 2367

N.B. This course was offered in the 2011W academic term at the University of British Columbia. This course was a one-time course offering and will not be offered again in subsequent years. This website is maintained as a record of the course materials for this course.

This course will seek to engage in a multidisciplinary approach to discuss four novels of the Modernist period (Madame Bovary, The Well of Loneliness, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Lolita), formerly the subjects of legal debates over their perceived obscene contents, now considered canonical texts in literary study. Significant attention shall be devoted to the sociocultural milieu in which these works were originally published in order to investigate the contexts framing contemporaneous debates about artistic merit and community standards. Some attention shall also be given to legal proceedings in which landmark decisions were made regarding the nature of obscenity (e.g. R. v. Hicklin, Roth v. United States, and Miller v. California) to foreground the connection between aesthetics and jurisprudence. Questions that will occupy our seminar will include, among others: what constitutes art and what is its role in society? what is the standard for obscenity and who is fit to judge it? what are the moral obligations to which artists are beholden (if any)?

If you ever have any questions and/or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact the course coordinator at


Peer-Evaluated (50%)

  • 10% Informed Participation and Discussion
  • 15% Seminar Presentation (15-20 minutes) from Jan 23 to Mar 19
  • 25% Seminar Paper (5-6 pages) due one week after presentation

Faculty Advisor-Evaluated (50%)

  • 10% Annotated Bibliography (6 sources) due Feb 13
  • 40% Research Paper (8-10 pages) due Apr 5