English 110/036: Approaches to Literature (January 2022)

ENGL 110/036: Approaches to Literature: Literary Monsters and Monstrous Literature

Dr. Gisèle M. Baxter

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Term 2 | TTh 2:00-3:30p

Rey: “You are a monster.”
Kylo Ren: “Yes, I am.”
– Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world” – Richard III 1.i

What is a monster? We know monsters from myths and legends, folktales, horror fiction and film. We know their variety: the grotesque, the beautiful, the terrifying, the pitiable, the sports of nature and the forces of evil. Dragons, werewolves, vampires, zombies, Frankenstein’s Creature, Dorian Gray, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, Marisa Coulter, many of the characters in The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones: they’re everywhere, from under the bed to the house next door to the battlefield, and right into a great deal of literature. Which leaves us here: in this section of 110 we’ll focus on how literary texts across the genres use representations of monstrosity in ways that inspire both terror and horror, as well as (let’s be honest) fascination and even enjoyment.

We’ll look at William Shakespeare’s Richard III (a play that meditates on villainy and ambition in demonizing its subject for Tudor audiences, yet still fascinates contemporary ones). In doing so, we’ll consider various film and stage adaptations, including Ian McKellen’s 1995 film, which shifts the setting to an alternate-reality 1930s England where fascism takes hold, and more recent adaptations using race and gender-diverse casting, and casting as Richard actors who are themselves physically disabled or disfigured.

Core texts will include the following (with availability):

  • Richard III (1995 film; dir. Richard Loncraine): this will be available to stream through Library Online Course Reserves
  • William Shakespeare, Richard III (excerpts): the UBC Bookstore has ordered the inexpensive Signet print edition; you can download the play as a PDF file from the Folger Shakespeare Library
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Broadview): the UBC Bookstore has ordered print copies; the ebook is available on Google Play, RedShelf, and Vitalsource.
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin): the UBC Bookstore has ordered print copies; the ebook is available on Apple Books, Kindle, Kobo, and Google Play
  • A collection of poems in the public domain will be provided as a PDF file on the course’s Canvas site
  • Janet Gardner and Joanne Diaz, Reading and Writing About Literature (Macmillan Learning, 5th ed.): the ebook is available on RedShelf and VitalSource (and the UBC Bookstore should have digital access cards)

Notes regarding texts:

  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle is still under copyright. That means there are no legal free or extraordinarily cheap ebook editions, and I can only permit use of legal editions. The ebook is approximately $13Cdn; the paperback approximately $20Cdn.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray is in the public domain, so there are free or cheap ebooks but those are often of poor quality and full of typographical and other errors. If you buy an ebook other than the Broadview choose a Penguin or Oxford edition (they’re cheaper than the Broadview but reliable). Alternately, you can use the Project Gutenberg edition but it is just the text: no introduction or notes.

Evaluation will be based on two short timed essays, a home paper, and a final exam, plus participation in discussion.

See Recent Posts or Archives (June 2021) in the right sidebar menu for descriptions of my other 2021-22 courses.


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