English 103b: Topics for the Second Essay

Outline and tentative thesis statement due Friday, May 24.

Final draft due the in section, June 3-7, the last week of classes.

General Instructions: Write a four- to five-page essay on one of the works, issues, or events covered in the second half of the course. This essay should have a clear, unified topic and an identifiable, arguable thesis statement backed by solid evidence. The outline is a general plan of what you intend to write; the tentative thesis statement is a rough approximation of what you intend to prove. Your personal response to the material can guide your thoughts, but you must establish your claims using evidence and argumentation considered valid within the discipline of literary criticism or literary history. If you use secondary sources, make sure they are of reasonable quality (no personal web sites, Cliff Notes, or Encarta) and cite them properly. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, make sure you narrow its focus and make a strong thesis.

  1. Despite living in an age dominated by advances in science, several writers we have studied argued for a renewed appreciation of beauty, art, and literature. Choose one or two of these writers and discuss the argument for the aesthetic in the Victorian era. If you choose to examine only one, follow the individual argument in detail and make a clear point about its assumptions, goals, or coherence. If you choose two, consider how one writerís argument illuminates or contrasts with that of the other writer, helping you to prove a thesis you could not have proven by examining either one alone. Appropriate choices for this topic could include writings by the Brownings, Pater, Ruskin, Arnold, or Wilde.
  2. What did the Empire mean to Victorian writers? Choose one or two writers and discuss which aspects of the British Empire receive attention, and which are deliberately excluded from the work or works. For instance, one could examine Tennysonís views of leadership and the relationship between an honorable leader and the world outside Great Britain, or the conscious or unconscious parochialism of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Darwin, or Walter Pater.
  3. To what extent do these works reveal an understanding of the obligations and expectations of the different classes or genders in Victorian society? To what degree did a particular author believe class and gender distinctions to be permanent or desirable? What traits identified someone as a lady or a gentleman, and could these traits be acquired or modified consciously?
  4. Examine the social impact of scientific discovery and/or technological progress as represented in one or two of the works we have studied. Does the author accept or resist scientific developments? Where, and under what circumstances, do technological advances enter the work, and what is their effect? Consider even apparently minor incursions of science and technology in Wilde, Dickens, Darwin, or any other writer we have studied, and tell us what they mean.
  5. Your own topic involving a writer or writers from the second half of the course.