Monday, November 23, 2015

Focusing ideas for your Great Expectations response paper

·      Images of light and dark; Estella as a “star” or “guiding light”––what manner of “beacon” is she?
·      Guilt and criminality
·      The significance of secondary characters: Biddy, Drummle, Orlick, Wemmick, Herbert, Mrs. Joe…
·      The Cain and Abel elements of Great Expectations
·      Paradise Lost as a foundational text for Great Expectations
·      Pip’s development versus Joe’s (or versus Estella’s, Magwitch’s, etc.)
·      Questions arising from the ending
·      The novel’s take on social class, on the project of becoming a gentleman itself
·      The role of setting/location in Great Expectations


(If you have specific response paper topic ideas to share with your classmates, feel free to share them in the comments below...)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Group work for Great Expectations Vol III, Ch 14-19

In groups of three or four, discuss the following questions. Have a group member create a googledoc titled "11. 19 Group Work" and list all members' names at the top of the doc, then share it with everyone in the group and with me (emajerus07 at gmail). Group members should take turns writing brief summaries of your discussion of each question as the discussion proceeds. Try to include specific quotations or examples from the chapters in each summary/answer, if possible.

1. What parallels do you find in Great Expectations to the Cain and Abel story? Try to identify at least two pairs of "Cain and Abel" figures. In what ways does the Cain and Abel story shed light on these figures, or any aspect of the novel?

2. Comment in general on how recent events have affected Pip, and have changed your view of him.

3. Identify three passages in the reading for today that show marked growth in Pip. What sort of growth does each passage illustrate?

4. Does Joe become more complex in this section? If so, how so? If not, what do you make of this?

5. How did you feel about the developments in Biddy and Joe’s relationship? Are Biddy and Joe suited to one another? Do you think Biddy is more suited to be Joe’s wife or Pip’s wife, and why? Could Pip and Biddy have made a life together? Why or why not?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Resources for MLA Citation Style

MLA style offers formatting guidelines for just about any source you can imagine. Be sure to choose the correct format both for citing your sources in text and for listing your sources on your Works Cited page.

There are many excellent resources online to help you quickly find the MLA-style-related information you need. What if you're using two works by the same author? What if your source has unnumbered pages? What if your source lists no author? You can find answers to these and many other questions at one of the online resources listed below. And if you search and still can't find an answer, ask me or one of the Uni librarians. If we don't know, we can help you find the answer.

A few useful online resources for MLA style:

Cornell University Library's page on MLA Citation Style 

The University of Illinois Writers Workshop's Citation Styles Handbook

The Purdue Online Writing Lab's MLA style page

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Source requirements and guidelines


How many sources you use for your historical research project will depend in part on what topic you are pursuing and whether you are writing a traditional research essay or completing a multimedia creative project. The more established your topic, the more sources you should have, given that a lot has been said about the subjects you're pursuing. The more specialized or idiosyncratic your topic, the more likely it is that you will rely more heavily on fewer sources. A simpler way to think about this is that if you find hundreds of possible sources on your general topic and dozens on your specific focus, it makes sense to incorporate more of those perspectives. If your topic is specialized enough that you only encounter a dozen or so sources, you may find that a smaller handful are relevant to your project.

Whatever your topic, I expect all of you to have at least five sources of information that you draw from and cite. You may have other sources that you consult, but there should be at least five that you quote or cite specific information from. A minimum of three of those sources should be substantial sources. All the others should at minimum be a source with some significant value.

For our purposes, a substantial source should be either:

  • A scholarly source (see the link below for help identifying the scholarliness of a source)
  • A source created by, for, or under the auspices of an important cultural institution such as a museum, an archive, a library, or a university

A source with significant value may not be scholarly, but it should have undergone some sort of editing or vetting process and have a serious reputation. For example, a published article in a magazine with established literary or journalistic credentials (The New Yorker or National Geographic, for example), a book that (while not scholarly) has been published by an established press, or a dissertation that has been listed in Dissertation Abstracts International. If you are using a source and aren't sure if it counts as having "significant value," you can check with me.

To further guide you in your search for substantial sources, here are tips from the University of Illinois Library on how to tell if a source is scholarly. I am also happy to help you figure out whether a source is "substantial," as I'm sure would any of our wonderful staff in Uni's library.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wednesday Notes for 4th P. Juniors

Here's what we did in class during 4th period, while the juniors were taking the PSAT:

First we did some prewriting for Jane Eyre response papers:

First, ten minutes:

  • Come up with five adjectives to describe Jane Eyre.
  • Page through the book and find the most interesting or compelling scene in the book for you, so far. Briefly describe it and say in a few words why you chose it.
  • Find three–six short scenes or moments that you think are especially important in the book. List the page numbers or note them by chapter and opening/closing phrase.
  • Choose the significant character you find most riveting, interesting, or important in the book. Describe how your feelings about how that character changed over the course of the book.  
  • What is the biggest question you have about the book or the most pressing problem or issue you have with the book at this point?

Then we broke into groups for tomorrow's informal debates on Austen vs. Brontë. You can choose a side and join a group tomorrow.


Then we finished up the prewriting work:

Ten more minutes:

    • Look over the three–six short scenes + one most interesting scene you chose earlier. What do you notice about ways they are connected, and/or what ideas about the book spring to mind when you examine them as a group.
    • Take a stab at writing a sentence that summarizes something important about Jane Eyre, something you think is not completely obvious. It’s OK if your sentence is not highly polished and eloquent right now. Spend no more than five minutes on this.





Friday, September 25, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Common Strategies for Literary Theses

Some common strategies for thesis statements in literary arguments:

  •  A sophisticated observation that reveals something essential about an aspect of this novel
  •  X seems true, but really it’s Y
  •  X character, event, detail seems unimportant, but if we look closely at it, it changes our understanding of the novel in Y and Z ways
  •  Two things seem similar but really they’re different (or vice versa)
  •  The novel has some element of ambiguity, and how you interpret this ambiguity changes the way you read the novel as a whole (or the role of a significant character, or the significance of the ending, or whatever)
  •  There is some underlying historical, philosophical, or cultural idea contemporary to the novel that sheds greater light on this novel


Less common but also possible:
  •  Question re: some significant aspect of the work. Statement that indicates what element(s) of the work you will have to explore in order to answer the question. 
In addition to many other approaches harder to boil down into a formula...

Monday, September 21, 2015

Class activities for September 21

Jane Eyre, Chapters 14-15

Get into groups of three or four and discuss the following questions in your small groups for 20 minutes or so:

  1. Why is it strange and even inappropriate that Mr. Rochester tells Jane the story of Célene Varens, especially in the way that he does? What is his rationale for telling her anyway? Does it make sense to you?
  2. Why do you think Mr. Rochester feels that Jane is the only person he would have wanted to have save his life? (“I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt…Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the character of a creditor for such an obligation,” Ch. 15, p. 171.) Consider as many possible reasons for this as you can think of.
  3. There is definitely some kind of strange communication and unique connection going on between Jane and Mr. Rochester. Discuss what the nature of this connection might be, and find as many details in these chapters to support your theories as you can.
  4. Have a member of your group read the section from “Yet I had not forgotten his faults…” to “…would have given much to assuage it.” What do you think of Jane’s thoughts here? Are they troubling? If so, why? If not, why not?

Spend the rest of class writing in your in-class writing googledoc, in answer to these questions:


  • What do you think of Mr. Rochester so far? Do you like him? How do you interpret his intentions toward Jane? Do you think he’s good for Jane (as an employer or in any other relation to her)? Give specific details from the novel.
  • Reread the last paragraph of Chapter 15. What do you think is going on here? Why can’t Jane sleep, and how do you interpret her feelings?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Ask Jane Austen: Your Guide to 21st Century Dating???

If you're interested in writing on Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, or both, one possible direction to take might be to read Sarah Seltzer's blog post Jane Austen Does Not Adhere To Your Ideology and use one or both of the novels we've read to either extend or refute Seltzer's argument. Seltzer objects to author Elizabeth Kantor offering Jane Austen's novels up as a collective "Guide to Happily Ever After," a body of work that modern women can turn to for sensible dating advice. On the contrary, Seltzer insists, Austen's "writing can’t be reduced to a set of rules," because it's too complex and more concerned with representing human life than codifying standards of behavior or strategies for successful husband-choosing.

What evidence do Persuasion and/or Pride and Prejudice offer to illustrate Seltzer's argument that Austen's work is more interested in representing life in its complexity than offering dating advice? What evidence do either or both novels provide to possibly shore up Kantor's project? Where do you stand on this debate?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A few small but important writing notes

As you prepare to write a response paper on Persuasion (or, for some of you, some notes and a Polished Sentence of Gleaming Observation and Eloquence™on Persuasion), keep these small but significant bits of writing advice in mind:

  • The first time you mention an author, use their first and last names. Thereafter, refer to them by their last name only. Mention the author and/or title of the work(s) you’re discussing in the first paragraph of any essay, however informal.
  • Write about literature in the present tense. (“Rachel Verinder begins as an exceptional female character, but turns out to be a stereotype.”) When you need to go into the “past” of the novel, you can still find verb tenses that convey this sense of past while the main verb tense you use remains the present tense. (“Gabriel’s stories of Rachel’s childhood show us that she was a stubborn girl, and she has retained this quality as a young woman.”) Write about writers in the present tense, even if they are long dead. (“Collins portrays his characters as complex rather than one-dimensional.”)
  • The start of each paragraph is a clean slate with regard to all pronouns. So don’t use “he,” “she,” “it,” etc. ‘til you’ve reestablished an antecedent. If you say “this” or “that” toward the start of a paragraph, be sure to specify (e.g. “This habit of Betteredge’s may be the reason so many characters trust him,” rather than “This is why other characters trust him.”)
  • The serial comma (e.g. “x, y, and z”) is wonderful and should be used in all cases when you’re not writing in a specifically journalistic style (when “x, y and z” would be conventional). The serial comma is elegant, appropriate, and clear. When I read sentences that contain a list of three or more words without a comma after each, it makes me feel sad, forlorn, and sometimes even confused.
  • In American English, all quotation marks should be double quotation marks, except in cases when you’re quoting within a quotation, in which case, you use single quotation marks. In other words: never use single quotation marks unless you’re quoting within a quotation. (Also, note that “quote” is a verb. “Quotation” is a noun.  “  ”  ß These things are “quotation marks.”)
  • Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks, never immediately after quotation marks. If you’re citing your source, the comma or period goes after the parenthetical citation (and the quotation marks close before the parentheses). Examples:
    • Austen emphasizes Anne’s “elegance of mind and sweetness of character.
    • We like Anne in part because of her “elegance of mind and sweetness of character” (Austen 44).
  • Avoid wordiness, especially due to the use of extra “meaningless” words (articles, prepositions, etc.) or needlessly repeated words. Examples:
    • “In a lot of nineteenth-century novels, they will fit into one of two categories,” is clearer and more elegant when you cut out a few unnecessary words (“in,” “they will,”) that don’t add any meaning: “A lot of nineteenth-century novels fit into one of two categories.” Similarly, “In the case of The Moonstone, it does offer some fully realized characters” is improved with a few words excised: “The Moonstone does offer some fully realized characters.”.
    • A repetitive sentence like “The start of the book starts out slowly,” can simply become “The book starts out slowly.” (Note that the meaning and point of the sentence remains intact in all three of these examples.)
  • A final, subjective note: I would like to come out against the use of the word “relatable” to describe literature or literary characters. “Relatable” was once a perfectly respectable word that meant “able to be told,” but then in the 1970s Hollywood-types started using it to discuss whether or not a film, situation, or character might be one that movie goers could relate to (and thus want to spend their box office dollars to watch). You aren’t wrong to use “relatable” in this way, but note that the word sounds intellectually flabby to many educated readers. Jan Freeman of the Boston Globe comments that “plenty of readers still hear ‘relatable’ as entertainment-industry jargon, a word that only a callow youth would use in the context of classic literature. (Is Lear relatable? Becky Sharp? Captain Ahab? I guess we would have to concede that Austen’s leading ladies are ‘relatable’ - but then, they’ve long since been transformed into screen stars.)”