Writing 109HU--Topics for the Literature Essay


General Instructions: The essay should be a four- to five-page interpretation of an excerpt from the poetry or prose works of William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, or Mary Shelley, and should incorporate at least two secondary sources. As for all essays, you should have a single, unified thesis that you prove logically and thoroughly by means of a clear interpretive method. Your experience, impressions, and response to the work of literature can guide your interpretation, but make sure that everything you claim about the poem is demonstrable. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, keep in mind that you will need to narrow their focus considerably to make a strong thesis.


Suggested Topics:

  1. William Wordsworth’s description of poetic inspiration is retrospective, that is, he makes it clear that he is remembering the gentle breeze, not feeling it at the time he writes. What role does memory play in the creation of poetry? Why does Wordsworth need the distance of time to gain perspective on his visionary moments?
  1. William Wordsworth’s actual journey to France, described in Book VI of the Prelude, was notable for two things that do not appear prominently in the text: the friend who accompanied him, Robert Jones, and the beginning of the new French Republic. Does Liu’s theory of the repression of history in the Imagination scene also extend to a repression of other factors, or is it merely a matter of relative importance? Against what is he defending if he diminishes the role of other people in his journey?
  1. Beth Darlington defends Dorothy Wordsworth’s use of journals as her main literary mode against other critics, Romantic and contemporary, who found that "her often prosaic style [and] her life [were] trivial and did not bear chronicling" (97). Is Darlington’s assertion that Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals represent an equally valuable form of literature justified by the journals themselves? What standards are implicit in these critics denunciation of her choice to remain a writer of journals rather than poetry?
  1. Percy Shelley frequently uses older forms (terza rima, heroic couplets, etc.) and classical allusions in what are clearly original and revolutionary poems. What can formal characteristics and thematic content tell you about Shelley’s relation to the past? Is Bloom right about Shelley’s attitude toward Plato, Rousseau, or other great predecessors in poetry and philosophy?
  1. Tilottama Rajan places her interpretation of Percy Shelley’s The Triumph of Life in juxtaposition to that of another critic, Paul de Man. What relation can you see between the two interpretations, and how well do they illuminate the poem itself? Does either essay discuss other viable interpretations of the poem? Are they mutually exclusive, or do they build on one another? The de Man essay appears in an anthology entitled Deconstruction and Criticism, Harold Bloom, ed. (New York: Continuum, 1979).
  1. Compare Wordsworth’s triumph of the imagination with Shelley’s "Triumph of Life." What does the presence of military metaphors mean to the interpretation of the poetry? Do they really exchange external conflicts (real wars and social upheaval) for internal conflicts (moments of crisis, doubt, and exaltation)?
  1. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein during a time of extreme turmoil in her life, including childbirth, the deaths of family members, elopement, and scandal. Moreover, she was the daughter of famous radicals and married to a renowned atheist and agitator. In what ways does the outcast monster represent aspects of her own status as an outsider to the normal expectations for a woman of the early nineteenth century?
  1. The reader includes an essay by Wordsworth called "Essay, Supplementary to the Preface" that justifies his poetic practices to a skeptical readership. To what extent and it what ways does his actual practice match this theory? In what ways have other critics used this essay to construct an interpretive framework for Wordsworth’s poetry?
  1. Write your own topic about one of the literary figures in this unit. Be sure to keep the topic narrow enough to be manageable, and include some direct observation and interpretation of your own along with the views of other critics.