Spring 2014 - Undergraduate Course Description
Derdeyn, LeeAnn
Discipline and Number
LIT 2331 Section: 002
TR Time: 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM
Course Title:
Masterpieces of World Literature


Thomas Cahill claims that, from the fall of the Roman Empire and continuing through the medieval period, the Irish peoples single-handedly saved all of Western Civilization. Cahill generally equates “saving Western Civilization” with preserving Roman and Greek art and culture, particularly historical and literary documents. While we’re not going to delve that far back into ancient history, it is a fair claim that Ireland remains a land rich in arts and culture, boasting four winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature: W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney, all of whom we’ll read. In the tradition of these Nobel winners, Irish poetry and drama have remained vibrant and relevant to the Irish peoples with wide readership and theatre attendance. Nevertheless, it’s the Irish short story that is widely proclaimed as the “national literary genre,” while Dermot Bolger makes an interesting claim for the Irish novel as the true “national literary genre” in his introduction to The Vintage Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction. What remains true is that 20th Century Irish Literature has a lot to offer the reader, as you will experience.

This semester we will look at the flourishing arts of the Irish 20th century which are among the best in our modern literary tradition, among them: novels and short stories, dramas, poems, creative non-fiction, as well as some music. We will investigate the social, cultural, and political backgrounds that can help us in becoming familiar with these artists’ work. We will also watch film adaptations of Irish literary works. We will discuss and acknowledge the flourishing presence of creative works in the Irish language by looking at several translations from the Gaelic tongue, as well as hear and view a subtitled poem read in Gaelic. Additionally, at the end of the semester, we will look at a few pieces of 21st century Irish literature. I hope you will come away from your exposure to modern Irish literature with a sense of the power of our language wielded by a tiny bi-lingual and bi-literary island: to remain with you a shining detail, a beautiful sentence, a luminous paragraph, a descriptive passage, or a poem that holds you.

Since knowledge has been classed as declarative (what you know) and procedural (what you do with what you know), the organization of each class and the organization of the grading structure will take both into account. Thus, we will come at these different genres through two modes: careful reading of our primary and secondary texts, and critical assessment, interpretation, and application through discussion, quizzes, exams, short writings, and the final essay. Each class will begin with a 5-minute opportunity for questions or clarifications of the particulars of the outside readings or previous class discussion, followed on Tuesdays by the quiz, and on Thursdays by explication of the occasional short-writing assignments. We will then proceed with the class agenda, whether close critical reading and textual development and discussion, or viewing and analysis of the films or other media.


Please Note: You will be unsuccessful on quizzes without the proper edition (unless noted).
• Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. NY: Grove, 2011. ISBN: 978-080214442 (or any Grove Press edition from 1984 to current with the same cover art)
• Joyce, James. Dubliners. NY: Norton Critical Ed, 2006. ISBN 978-0393978513 (or any ISBN as long as 2006 Norton Critical ed.)
• O’Brien, Edna. The Country Girls. NY: Plume, 2002. ISBN-13: 978-0452283435 (or any vs of The Country Girls Trilogy)
• Yeats, William Butler. Yeats’s Poetry, Drama, and Prose. NY: Norton, 2000. ISBN ISBN 978-0-393-97497-3 (or any ISBN as long as 2000 ed.) (Yeats)

Another one or two texts may be added, as syllabus is revised, but none of these will be deleted. Other required readings will be on Course Reserves.


Semester assignments include: weekly short quizzes, three (3) short writing assignments, one (1) major writing essay assignment, two (2) half-semester exams (one at mid, and one at end, but no cumulative final exam), as well as reading homework most class periods. There is one class which will be mandated at night to watch a 2 hour movie. Engaged participation and attendance are also required.

Student Learning Objectives
• Through careful reading, you will engage the world of modern Irish literature—its familiarities and its strangenesses in words and ways. That is, you will learn how to read Irish literature through the world of the text and its context and not solely through the lens of your own experience.
• Through careful viewing, you will identify the elements of modern film adaptations to some of these literary works, and interpret and draw inferences about variations from the original texts.
• You will understand the basic tenets of the some of the conflicts that have beset Ireland, such as Catholic vs. Protestant, South vs. North, “Anglo” vs. “Irish,” Emigrants vs. Native, Rural vs. Urban, and others. Additionally, you will understand the context of social and historical influences such as The Potato Famine, The Land Wars, The British Occupation, The Gaelic Revival, The Ulster Scots, The Act of Union, The Northern Irish “Troubles,”and others. You will be able to apply your understanding of these conflicts and contexts in analyzing and discussing the literary texts, not only within each individual text, but in cross-textual comparison.
• You will consider concepts of justice and the human person, ideas of community and citizenship, ideas of duty, piety, and allegiance as portrayed (or not portrayed) in these art works.
• You will identify stylistic differences in the individual artists, and in the different genres.
• You will establish a vibrant, living knowledge of the various portrayals of Irish life that will grow both tap-root and rhizome (i.e., deep and wide).
• You will (hopefully) come to a new appreciation of reading literature and watching literary films.
• And may you come to love the writings of the modern Irish, as I do.

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