Much of the program requires walking city streets and visiting museums, theatres and monuments, and applicants will therefore need to be ready to take a physically active role in the program.
ENGL 344/444 (5 credits): “Contemporary London Theatre”
Professor Laurie George
“To enter a theatre for a performance is to be inducted into a magical space, to be ushered into the sacred arena of the imagination," writes British actor, writer and director Simon Callow. Or as another famous bard put it: "The play's the thing!" That's what we're after in this course: the thrill of London's vibrant, world-renowned theater scene, a unique in-person experience that no mobile device can match. We’ll see and discuss a variety of plays in a diverse array of important historical venues, ranging from the National Theatre, the Old Vic, and the Globe Theater, where Shakespeare’s plays are routinely performed, to the small fringe theaters where contemporary playwrights often stage their new works. Along with watching, reading, and discussing one play each week, we’ll look forward to a backstage tour at the National Theater and an overnight trip to Stratford, Shakespeare’s birthplace, where we will see the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company perform. Together, our recreations will engage us in the various elements of dramatic performance—the roles of actors, lighting, costuming, sound, and stage. Course requirements include your personal interest in the topic (of course!), weekly reading assignments and response papers, a short reflective essay, and a final group performance project—indeed, you'll get to be a part of the play, the thing!
Weekly written responses to theater productions, a self-reflective essay, and group performance. You emerge with increased knowledge of the history of theater and its craft, the current London theatre scene, critical spectatorship, and the ability to evaluate performed plays alongside written scripts.
For this is the place!—for fans of the English-language theater, London is the sacred ground of sacred grounds. (The course will also be linked with an excursion to Stratford Upon Avon and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s main stage.
This course meets the Senior Capstone requirement for Language and Literature majors.
ENGL 336/395/430 (5 credits): “Modernist London: The City as Text and Textile”
Professor Jessica Burstein
As an artistic current and social phenomenon, modernism and modernity are inextricably linked to urban life; London is and was a vital center to both. Literature, fashion, and visual art spring up engaging the new status of crowds, public transit, crime, and the urban pressures exerted on bodily and mental experience. Blaring traffic and new forms of advertising like sky-writing compete for attention with the spectacle of a shifting public comprised of the hitherto marginalized, unescorted females, queer sorts, dandies on parade, and even the unobserved flâneur. The audience has become the performance.
Beginning in the 19th century and moving through the 20th, with a final leap into the contemporary moment, "Modernist London" uses the city of London as its grounding text. The class will spend roughly half of its time in the classroom and half outside of it, going on tours and getting a sense of the terrain described in the texts: on the streets or in the buildings, cafés, or museums.
The appetizers will be one of the most important accounts of the city, Georg Simmel's 1909 essay on "The Metropolis and Mental Life,” in which the sociologist argues that the metropolis shapes the psychology of its inhabitants. (If that doesn't surprise you, it's because you're blasé, which Simmel identified as a response to urban living.) We will do some fun work on flâneurie—the activity of observing city life aesthetically from a particular kind of distance.
After this brief set-up, we are ready for London in all its fascinating particulars, and delve into literature on site. We will start with the seedy side, with extracts from journalist Henry Mayhew’s nineteenth-century London Labor and the London Poor. Staying with the “lower” classes even as we move into the rise of aestheticism, we will read Oscar Wilde's extremely beautiful, queer, and slippery The Picture of Dorian Gray, go on a Jack the Ripper tour, visit a beautiful aestheticist homespace, and hopefully get a chance to tour a music hall, a space akin to vaudeville that operated in the 19th and early 20th centuries’ as a multi-entertainment venue in which lower and upper-classes mingled. Other texts are likely to include Conrad's The Secret Agent, which features the impact of anarchist and terrorist agitation in early twentieth-century London. For that novel we'll go to Greenwich, learn about the establishment of Greenwich Mean Time, and stumble on some tree roots (Note: this aspect of the class will be a challenge for those in wheelchairs, but with notice I will seek to adjust the demands of that terrain).
Then, shopping and shell shock: We follow the steps of characters in arguably the most important modernist novel of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925): tracing the steps of a male shell-shocked war veteran and a female urban shopper preparing for her party as they traverse London over the course of single day. Too, we read the essays Woolf wrote on “The London Scene” for that surprisingly modernist journal known as Good Housekeeping, describing parts of London such as its shopping district, docks, and churches. We will pay especial attention to the birth of the first English avant-gardes: one was born in the tea room of the British Museum; another one, Vorticism, valorized speed and mechanism and the rise of the new, even while oddly making a point of trying to keep some paintings in the National Portrait Gallery safe from women agitating for the vote.
We may investigate London suffragist fashion—women agitating for the vote and role of clothing, and see if the London Fashion and Textile Museum has some material to thread through our modernism. Depending on what British Vogue is up to while we’re there, this magazine may serve as one of our primary texts: you will learn to close read an image, and bring together the way that fashion—like modernism’s—obsession with the new is irrevocably stitched to its past.
Our texts then will include novels, manifestos and poetry, and we will even investigate how the most quotidian experience of the London Underground—the Tube—is part of the birth of modernism, with a visit to the London Transit Museum. (Please mind the gap.) If time allows, we will close by reading a 21st century London novel by the inimitable Zadie Smith, in order to consider a brilliant writer who takes modernism as a vital starting point for the contemporary novel.
Student responsibilities will include active and informed participation in class discussion, response papers, attentive walking and looking, and 2 short papers. This class will fulfill both a writing and history requirement.
Learning outcomes: You will emerge with a lively and informed sense of London’s cultural history (19th century and forward), with special attention to the role of the Great War, the role of women on the streets and how gender and social class impacts citizenry, an awareness of avant-garde art, some fashion theory, and above all the technique and importance of close reading texts and material history. You will become a better writer—for as we learn from the modernist Oscar Wilde, style matters.
ENGL 295 (5 credits): Art, Architecture, and Society in London
Professor Peter Buckroyd, British Faculty
This course is interdisciplinary. The material is London itself. The course is taught entirely on the streets and in buildings, ranging from medieval, Elizabethan and Jacobean to Victorian, modern and post-modern. As well as equipping students to look more carefully at buildings, pictures and sculpture, the course encourages them to do some imaginative re-creation, considering what it might have been like to have lived at different times in the past as a member of different social classes. Field trips, to locations like Stratford Upon Avon, are included, typically via chartered bus with professional drivers. Students usually stay in established B&B's for any overnight trips.
This course counts as VLPA credit and does not count toward the English major (it's an Art History course).
HSTEU 490 (5 credits): Contemporary Britain
Professor Michael Fosdal, British Faculty
This course introduces students to various aspects of life in Britain, from royalty to the homeless, from politics to sport. There is a major emphasis on direct contact with the people and institutions of contemporary Britain, including meetings with homeless people and politicians, visits to Parliament and the media, and individual research projects which encourage students to follow up their own interests. The course also looks at issues such as race, crime, the family and the problems (and delights) of being young in Britain today. The course should enable students to gain a deeper understanding of contemporary Britain and equip them better to understand their own society.