Writing About Literature

The word ‘monster’ derives from the Latin verb monere, “to show or admonish.” In other words, monsters begin as meaningful creatures–as signs to be read, as warnings. Through intensive weekly reading and writing assignments, this course will look at literature centered on monstrous figures to think about two things; the first: how do monsters like devilish magicians and mad scientists show (or de-monstrate) the fears, anxieties, and problems of specific cultural moments throughout history? The second: what are we to make of the fact that, while monsters are often objects of terror, they are also frequently sympathetic figures, vibrant fictional characters whose complexity seems to protest the fear they are (supposedly) meant to inspire? Indeed, many of the monsters we will cover are, to some readers, the heroes of their stories. By reading literature in genres ranging from 16th century English drama to the 19th century Gothic novel to contemporary American horror fiction, this course will help you to understand literature’s rich, ongoing, and ambivalent tradition of making monsters.