Topics and questions for final essay (25%)

ENGL 262: British Literature from 1660 – 1900 (Winter 2015)

The essay should be about 4.5 – 5.5 pages long. It will be evaluated based on the clarity and persuasiveness of your argument; the effective use of textual evidence to support the argument; quality of writing; and originality and insight. Due April 1 in tutorial or by 4:00 pm in your TA’s departmental mailbox.

These questions and topics are general prompts; your essay should take one of these and narrow it considerably in order to ensure that your thesis is specific and defensible using textual evidence. Good essays come from a narrow, specific argument that leads you toward concrete textual evidence, whose relevance to and implications for the argument must be made explicit. Don’t assume that your reader knows how you’ve come to a particular interpretation: spell out the steps of your reasoning.

If you prefer, you may write on a topic of your own devising, but for this you must have permission from your TA.

In any case, make sure you adhere to the following requirements:

  • Use 12-pt Times New Roman, double-spaced, with normal (2.54 cm) margins;
  • Double-sided printing is acceptable;
  • Do not include a separate title page: include your name, student number, and TA’s name at the top of the first page;
  • A bibliography of works cited is necessary, even if you’re citing only one text (there is no need, however, to include a separate page for the bibliography);
  • Referencing and formatting must conform to MLA style.
  • In addition to the text(s) you’re focusing on, only three secondary sources are allowed: (1) the critical or historical materials in the Broadview Anthology of British Literature; (2) the Broadview Frankenstein; and/or (3) the Oxford English Dictionary Online (accessible through the Concordia Library). The use of any other source will be viewed as a possible academic integrity issue (see also here).
  • The essay should have a title that describes your topic or hints at your argument (rather than “Final Essay” or something vague like “The Fear of Death,” use something like “The Fear of Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” or “Christina Rossetti’s Sonnets: Reclaiming the Form from the Male Gaze”)

1. Discuss how one or two authors question or subvert notions of gender and gender roles.

2. Compare how two authors depict reproduction (as distinct from sex), and explain the differences and similarities.

3. Women play a surprisingly minor role in Frankenstein—or maybe not. Discuss.

4. How might Frankenstein be read as an interpretation of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria, or The Wrongs of Women (based on the excerpt provided in BABL)?

5. Discuss how one or two works treat the concept and practice of authority and/or power.

6. There are similarities between Pope’s “great chain” and Darwin’s “tree of life,” but the two metaphors reflect radically different visions of Nature. Based on any two works covered this term, discuss the concepts and representations of fixity and development.

7. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft hopes to “trace what we should endeavour to make them [women’s manners] in order to co-operate … with the supreme Being” (BABL 106). With reference to either Milton or Pope, discuss how and why Wollstonecraft focuses on cooperating rather than justifying or vindicating God’s ways.

8. In Frankenstein, the Monster’s sense of self is based on his reading of Paradise Lost Books I (the fall of the rebel angels) and VIII (the creation of Adam). Is the Monster more like Satan or more like Adam? Support your argument with evidence from the novel.

9. Discuss how redemption is represented in two works.

10. Discuss representations of the everyday in two works.

11. Examine how Time functions (or what it means) in one work. You may focus on time as a concept, as an element of plot, or in any other way–as long as you’re clear about how you’re approaching it.

12. Is rebellion heroic or evil? Answer this question focussing on one work.

13. Discuss the relation between faith and knowledge (or doubt) in Paradise Lost and one other work.

14. Compare the role and representation of the natural world in two of the following works: Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, The Origin of Species and Silas Marner.

15. Discuss the appeal of the past or former times in any one or two

16. Discuss the attitude toward love or sex and sexuality in any two works.

17. Discuss the Romantic hero in both Paradise Lost and one of the poems by Coleridge, Byron, Percy Shelley, Tennyson and Arnold. Alternatively, you could examine the Romantic hero in relation to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in Walter Pater’s “Conclusion” or in Oscar Wilde’s Decay of Lying.

18. Discuss agency and power in Aphra Behn’s “The Disappointment” and Christina Rossetti’s “In an Artist’s Studio.”

19. Discuss travels away from England in one of the works we read. What functions do other places and peoples play in the work?

20. In the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes “All art is quite useless.” At the end of The Defence of Poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley writes that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Are these statements antithetical, or are they perhaps more similar than they seem? In either case, use your reading of these two statements in order to explore the function of art in one work of poetry or fiction from the syllabus.

21. Discuss divisions between religions in any one work. For example, you might examine how the text represents or uses non-Christian religions or peoples, or how it represents differences between Christian sects (e.g. Protestant and Catholic; Anglican and dissenter).


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