ENGL 242 C: Reading Prose Fiction

Meeting Time: 
TTh 4:30pm - 6:20pm
SMI 305
Brad Gerhardt

Syllabus Description:


T/Th 4:30-6:20, SMI 305


Dr. Brad Gerhardt


B-435 Padelford Hall

Office Hours: T/Th 3:30-4:30



Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods. Counts toward both VLPA and W credit.

From the lineages of the Bible or the myth of Oedipus to our contemporary obsession with every new ‘royal’ wedding or baby, family has been a constant source of possibility and anxiety in writing. In ENGL 242, we will track these changes and deployments of family structures in prose narratives from the 18th century to the present, examining the peculiar intersections of identity, history, time, and narrative that the family presents. We will work through a variety of genres and forms of prose literature – short stories, novellas, and novels – as we explore the critiques they offer as well as how their interest in narrating the family informs their works. Because 242 specifically examines prose fiction, we will attend to questions of form, and our written assignments will focus primarily on developing the related skills of close reading and comparative analysis. Students will also have the opportunity to examine and construct their own family narratives, conducting autoethnographic research and producing their own approach to the stories they encounter.



-Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (Dover Thrift, ISBN: 978-0486434124)

-Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (Penguin, ISBN: 978-0140390056)

-ONE OF THE FOLLOWING NOVELLAS (you will be assigned in groups):

            -Rebecca West, The Return of the Soldier (Penguin, ISBN: 978-0141180656)

            -Thomas Mann, Death in Venice ((Ecco, ISBN: 9780060576172)

            -Katherine Mansfield, Stories (Vintage, ISBN: 978-0679733744)

            -Robert Musil, Three Women (Green Integer, ISBN: 978-1557134196)

-William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (Vintage: ISBN: 978-0679732242)

-Virginia Woolf, The Years (Harvest Books: ISBN: 9780156034852)

-Course Packet, available at Rams Copy Center (4144 University Way NE)



  1. Students understand the investments, contexts, and effects of the kind of close/critical reading skills or approaches under study/use.
  1. Students are able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally.
  1. Students improve their writing skills generally, and with regard to writing about literature.



Take-Home Midterm Exam

            After our first two major texts (The Castle of Otranto and Lady Susan), we will have a take-home written midterm exam (obtain a blue book and pen). The focus of the exam will be on practicing closely reading one or more passages from the materials we have covered. Contributing to our in-class discussions and reading each text carefully will be your best preparation.

Group Presentation

            For the last two weeks, as we tackle contemporary short stories, I will split the class into groups. Each group will prepare for and lead our discussion of one of the texts for the day, both presenting some prepared materials and generating and mediating discussion questions. Exactly how that presentation is staged is up to each group, but all should be relevant, analytical, and involve all members equally.


Reading Responses

            To balance the more formal written assignments, we will have freewriting activities from time to time to practice skills and gauge questions or struggles the class is having with the texts. They are intended to be informal practice opportunities; do not expect any feedback from me on them. Some will be in-class, and others will be posted to Canvas; I will let you know in class either way.



            Graded assignments are intended to implement learning outcomes, and practice a variety of skills; however, both assignments and reading responses will require you to develop and maintain habits of close reading. They will be evaluated on the originality of thought, clarity of articulation, and depth of analysis. Please note that I expect printed copies of all written work.


Thematic Analysis (900-1500 words, generally 3-5 pages double-spaced)

            Having practiced the skill of close reading in the midterm, you will add to your credibility and finesse as a writer through a sound and intentional structure or form. In this assignment you will practice a thematic analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, utilizing organizational skills we will discuss in class, and in response to a specific prompt.


Comparative Analysis (1500-2000 words, generally 5-7 pages double-spaced)

            An effective comparative analysis identifies a fundamental concern or tension that two texts share and expands on that through careful and close reading of both texts. For this assignment, you will compare The Sound and the Fury with a novella I will assign and which you will discuss with a portion of the class. A successful comparison will be a critical synthesis of your materials, placing them in a dialogue with each other rather than subordinating their differences, and expanding beyond a list of similarities and differences into a nuanced study of the relation between the two on the issue of your choice, and utilizing effective close reading strategies to make defensible analyses of both texts.


Reading Journal (word/page count will vary)

            As we read The Years, you will keep your analytical skills active by keeping a reading journal, with one entry for each day’s reading, discussing your reflections, questions, and observations. Your grade for the journal is more directly correlated to the consistency of your record than its length; this is intended to practice reading skills and not necessarily writing finesse (although the distinction between those is debatable). The format is up to you, but it should pay close attention to details from the text and be primarily analytical, not summary or evaluative, in its approach.


Research and Narrative (2-3 pages for research; 5-7 pages for narrative)

            Although The Years is itself a trove of potential topics for the traditional literary research paper, given the focus on family narratives in this class, I have instead chosen to have you mimic Woolf’s research method to create your own family narrative through research. Your task will be to find and research a particular ancestor, finding one or more primary documents relating to him or her, as well as to retrieve some basic historical context (from primary sources, such as newspapers, journals, or photographs, and/or secondary, retrospective accounts) in order to write your own narrative of a single day in a single year. The narrative doesn’t need to mimic Woolf’s style but it should demonstrate an analytical view towards history, and take into account our course as a whole in its concern for the ways in which family structures shape identity.

            Thus the assignment is in two parts: the research portion, which will begin with an information session to introduce you to some basic genealogical resources, and which should give you a particular individual and time period to focus on, and secondly, the narrative portion, which will be both imaginative and analytical, and give you a chance to demonstrate your thinking about the process of “narrating the family” as you construct your own account. You will turn in the research portion and receive feedback before the narrative portion is due; please take my comments and concerns into account as you proceed and revise or add to your research if necessary.



Attendance and Participation:

            As a class first and foremost about reading prose fiction, being prepared for each day’s discussion and participating in it is simply a given. This does not mean that I expect you to ‘master’ the daily readings; I view reading as a process of negotiation with texts, and I do not have much patience for the kind of pretentious and alienating jargon or simpering social hierarchies I too often encountered in graduate literature courses. I believe that all of us learn best when we speak from our own experiences, respond as embodied, particular readers, and acknowledge and discuss cultural norms that are ingrained in or critiqued by texts, rather than assuming there is a ready consensus on them. I think students are usually the best judges of their own effort at participation, so I will pass out a participation rubric which you will fill out and return, and which I will evaluate against my own observations as I assign this grade.


Zero Tolerance Policy

            Literature, by its nature, should invite a wide range of reactions, opinions, and interpretations; I hope to encourage this by providing an intellectually challenging but respectful environment; I ask you to do the same. There will be no tolerance for words, speech, behavior, actions, or clothing/possessions that insult, diminish, demean, or belittle any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken.


Technology Policy

            Unless you have a very specific reason for needing them, I request that you not use computers or electronics in class. I ask that you purchase physical copies of our texts, and our discussions will refer extensively to those physical objects, so bring to class with you the text you were assigned to read and be ready to engage with it. Please mark up your readings and take notes with pencil/pen and paper.


Late Work:

            I will accept any of the written assignments late with a penalty of one grade level for each day (24 hour period) after the due date (for a paper that would receive a 4.0 had it been on time on Monday, any time after class up through Tuesday, it will receive a 3.0, Wednesday a 2.0, etc.). I will not accept reading responses late.



            Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in any way in my class; your work should be entirely your own, and cite any outside sources you have used (though none of the assignments ask you to do this). Definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and the consequences at the UW can be found at:  http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/plag.html



Writing Centers

            The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers free, one-on-one help with all aspects of writing at any stage in the writing process. It is best to make an appointment in advance: https://depts.washington.edu/owrc/signup.php

            The CLUE Writing Center in Mary Gates Hall is open Sunday to Thursday from 7pm to midnight. The graduate tutors can help you with your claims, organization, and grammar.


Religious Accommodations

            Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.


Disability-Related Needs:

If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.



            I will return assignments as quickly as possible with my written comments and grade, which is my primary form of communication, though I’ll also post grades to Canvas.

Total: 600 pts (see Canvas for grading scale)

            Assignments (55%)

                        Reading Journal – 50 pts

                        Thematic Analysis – 75 pts

                        Comparative Analysis – 100 pts

                        Research and Narrative – 125 pts

            Assessments (25%)

                        Take-Home Midterm – 50 pts

                        Group Presentation – 50 pts

                        Reading Responses – 50 pts

            Participation (20%) – 100 pts



NOTE: Readings/viewings should be completed BEFORE class on the date indicated.

26 September – Course Introduction; David Sedaris, “Let it Snow” (in class)


18th Century

1 October – Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1764)

3 October – Jane Austen, Lady Susan (1794), in Course Packet (CP)


19th Century

8 October – Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), through Ch. VII

            take-home midterm due in class

10 October – The House of the Seven Gables, through Ch. XIII


15 October – The House of the Seven Gables, through Ch. XXI

17 October – Guy de Maupassant, “Family Life” (1881); Anton Chekhov, “Anna Around the Neck” (1895), both in Course Packet (CP)

            Thematic Analysis paper due in class


20th Century/Modernism

22 October – Novellas (assigned in groups), bring The Sound and the Fury to class as well

24 October – William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929), April Seventh, 1928


29 October – The Sound and the Fury, June Second, 1910

31 October – The Sound and the Fury, April Sixth, 1928


5 November – The Sound and the Fury, April Eighth, 1928 and Appendix

7 November – Virginia Woolf, The Years (1937), 1880

            Comparative Analysis paper due in class


12 November – The Years, 1891, 1907, 1908, and 1910

14 November – The Years, 1911, 1913, and 1914


19 November – The Years, 1917, 1918, and through pg. 332 of “Present Day”

21 November – The Years, through the end

            Reading Journal AND Research portion of final paper due in class


Mid-20th Century to Present

26 November – Jorge Luis Borges, “Emma Zunz” (1948); J.D. Salinger, “Down at the Dinghy” (1949); Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1953); Jean Rhys, “The Day They Burned the Books” (1960); all in Course Packet (CP)


28 November – Thanksgiving Break (NO CLASS)


3 December – Alice Walker, “A Sudden Trip Home in Spring” (1971); Herta Müller, “The Funeral Sermon” (1982); Toni Morrison, “Recitatif” (1983); Salman Rushdie, “Good  Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies” (1994), all in Course Packet (CP)


5 December – Jonathan Safran Foer, “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly” (2010); Judith Hermann,  “Malte” (2014); both in Course Packet (CP)



12 December - Narrative portion due in my office (Padelford B-435) by 5 PM

Catalog Description: 
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
September 12, 2019 - 10:50pm