ENGL 200 C: Reading Literary Forms

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 11:30am - 12:20pm
SMI 305
Brad Gerhardt

Syllabus Description:


MTWTh 11:30-12:20, SMI 305


Brad Gerhardt


B-428 Padelford Hall

Office Hours: Tues/Wed 12:30-1:30



            ENGL 200 covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense.

            After completing his portrait of Gertrude Stein and upon hearing general criticism of his flat and angular rendering of her face, Pablo Picasso replied, “everybody thinks that she is not at all like her portrait but never mind, in the end she will manage to look just like it.” Stein’s own poetic “portrait” of Picasso likewise met with disapproval for its rejection of representational conventions. But, considered together, how might these two modes or approaches to portraiture inform and extend the conversation of representation, rather than existing in isolation? We will investigate conventions and innovations within verbal and visual portraits from throughout the 20th century in order to fully consider the question: what is involved in producing representations of others for artistic purposes? This has both ethical and practical dimensions: the philosophical side which considers the relation of self to other, of knowledge and power, while the more practical side examines how portraiture is constructed in different forms: visual (painting, photography, and film), and literary (poetry, short story, novel, and drama).



-Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (Harcourt, ISBN: 978-0156034791)

-Lyn Hejinian, My Life and My Life in the Nineties (Wesleyan Poetry, ISBN:


-Jean Toomer, Cane (Liveright ISBN 978-0871401519)

-Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love (Vintage; ISBN 9780307740816)

-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.
  2. Students develop more sophisticated discussion and presentation skills in the interest of being better able to construct and defend their own arguments or interpretations.
  3. Students improve their writing skills generally, and with regard to writing about literature and culture.



Midterm Exam

            After our first two major texts (Endgame and Cane), we will have an in-class written midterm exam (bring a blue book and pen). The focus of the exam will be on practicing closely reading one or more passages/scenes 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 third unit, on poetry, I will split the class into groups. Each group will come up with an analytical discussion question related to a phrase from My Life, and then present their answers to this question in a 5-minute presentation to the class. How that presentation is staged is up to each group, but all should be relevant, analytical, and involve all members equally.



            Graded assignments are intended to implement learning outcomes, and practice a variety of skills; however, both assignments and assessments 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.


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

            Our first major written assignment will be a comparative analysis of The Pursuit of Love and another text of your choice. 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. This may be the most valuable and difficult skill you take away from this course. 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.


Reading Journal (length will vary)

For the last two books (Jacobs Room and Alice) of the quarter, there will be no formal assignment; rather, you will make journal, with one entry for each day’s reading, discussing your reflections, questions, and observations from your reading. Your grade for each 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. The format is up to you, but it should pay close attention to details from the texts and be primarily analytical, not summary or evaluative, in its approach.


Portrait Project (1500-1800 words, generally 5-6 pages double-spaced)

For the final project, we will move from discussion of portraits into production of them. This project has several components; first, the proposal, which will outline your ideas and motivations for the project, and which we will workshop together in class, and then the final project, which will consist of a portrait series (more than one) created by you, and secondly, an analysis of that series, discussing it objectively and defending its representational choices, as well as productively linking your work to other concepts/artists from the class. There is of course a great deal of flexibility in your choice of subject and medium, but all projects should be primarily visual (not verbal) and demonstrate a thoughtful negotiation of the positions of “artist” and “subject” through their aesthetic choices.

            Our “final” will be devoted to short (3 minute) “presentations” of your projects; while these are not formal presentations, they should be planned and give an overview of the elements of your project you would like to highlight for the class.


Portrait Analysis

Because the written assignments focus more heavily on our verbal portraits, for the visual texts in each unit, you will select one of the photographs from the artist’s collection or one scene from the film and do a thorough analysis of it. There is no word count, but it should be one well-considered page; you will respond to a specific question posed by me, and will practice particular writing skills based on that question, but all analyses should pay close attention to the selected photograph/scene and its composition.


Attendance and Participation:

            ENGL 200 is not intended as a lecture course; it is a discussion-based course, and as such, your daily preparation and participation largely determine the success of the course. When illness or other circumstances arise, please let me know beforehand, and please attach to your email any assignments that are due, so that they won’t be counted late. Keeping up with the reading is essential for effective discussions; my first impulse is to trust you implicitly to read and think about our materials before each class. Please don’t violate my trust.

            Participation is more than merely attending class; it means contributing to discussions. I reserve the right, and will exercise it, to call on anyone in class and expect a response. There will be a weekly participation grade; as of Thursday after class, I will post grades for those I feel have participated sufficiently that week. I will also post a discussion question on Canvas. The discussion is an opportunity for those who haven’t participated much during the week to prove that they are engaging with the materials and improve that week’s grade. Any discussion posts will be due by Sunday night.


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 allow a make-up for the tests or presentation only in truly extenuating circumstances.



            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.


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)


                        Comparative Analysis – 100 pts

                        Portrait Project – 125 pts

                        Reading Journal – 100 pts

                        Portrait Analyses – 75 pts


                        Midterm – 50 pts

                        Presentation – 50 pts

            Participation – 100 pts



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

7 January – Course Introduction

8 January – A Brief History of Portraiture; READ Gertrude Stein “If I Told Him”

Unit One: The Ethics of Representation

9 January – VIEW Diane Arbus, New Documents (available on Canvas)

10 January – READ Diane Arbus, “Introduction” (in Course Packet; CP)

            Portrait Analysis 1 due in class


14 January – Samuel Beckett, Endgame through pg. 115 (CP)

15 January – Endgame, through the end (CP)

Unit Two: Portrait and Place

16 January – VIEW Richard Avedon, In the American West (available on Canvas), READ

            “Foreword” and “Background” (CP)

17 January – Jean Toomer, Cane, through “Blood-Burning Moon”

            Portrait Analysis 2 due in class


21 January – NO CLASS; Martin Luther King Day

22 January – Cane, through “Bona and Paul”

23 January – Cane, through the end

24 January – MIDTERM; bring a blue book (in class)


Unit Three: Self-Portraits

28 January – VIEW Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills (available on Canvas), READ

“Introduction” (CP)

29 January – Lyn Hejinian, My Life, through “We have come a long way from what we actually


30 January – My Life, through “Reason looks for two, then arranges it from there

31 January – My Life, through “At a moment of trotting on only one foot in so much snow

            Portrait Analysis 3 due in class


4 February – My Life, through the end

5 February – Group Presentation in class

Unit Four: Family Portraits

6 February – VIEW Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, through 1:05

7 February – VIEW Tree of Life, through the end

            Portrait Analysis 4 due in class


11 February – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love, Chapters 1-4

12 February – The Pursuit of Love, Chapters 5-7

13 February – The Pursuit of Love, Chapters 8-11

14 February – The Pursuit of Love, Chapters 12-14


18 February – NO CLASS; President’s Day

19 February – The Pursuit of Love, Chapters 15-17

20 February – The Pursuit of Love, Chapters 18-19

21 February – The Pursuit of Love, Chapters 20-21


25 February – Portrait Project workshop in class

            Comparative Paper due in class

Unit Five: Portrait and Elegy

26 February – Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room, Chapters 1-2

27 February – Jacob’s Room, Chapters 3-4

28 February – Jacob’s Room, Chapters 5-8

            Portrait Project Proposal due in class


4 March – Jacob’s Room, Chapters 9-11

5 March – Jacob’s Room, Chapters 12-14

6 March – VIEW Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell

7 March – Judith Hermann, Alice, “Micha”

            Portrait Analysis 5 due in class


11 March – Alice, “Conrad”

12 March – Alice, “Richard”

13 March – Alice, “Malte”

14 March – Alice, “Raymond”

            Reading Journal due in class


20 March, 2:30-4:30 PM – “Final”; presentation of Portrait Project; project due

Catalog Description: 
Covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:20pm