British Literature

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British Literature
Department Language Arts
Teacher Jesse Stallings
Sessions 2

If you need to get in contact with me, please send an email.

If you need to know what we did in class, check the blog.

Course Description

The primary objective of this course is to show you that the things you do every day—whether reading, watching television, listening to music, drawing, arguing, or watching movies—can be applied to how you write. I’m just going to show you how. If you already know how, I’m going to show you how to do it better; if you already know how to do it perfectly, I’ll let you write our lesson plans.

During the next two semesters we will be studying works by major British authors and their impact on modern literature and culture. We will do this by folding the chronology of Brit Lit upon itself—we will look at Nick Hornby’s work alongside Donne’s poetry; punk music alongside classic nonfiction texts and dystopian novels (Lord of the Flies, anyone?); Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Stoppard’s postmodern play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (well, maybe…) and anything else we can mash together.

This course is a survey of British Literature from the Renaissance to the present day, but as you can see from the above outline, it will not be chronological. This presents us with a number of advantages (stronger understanding of intertextuality and impact, immediate understanding of the contemporary relevance of canonical texts, not being stuck in the Middle Ages for an entire “unit”…), as well as one major disadvantage (chronological connections and movements may be deemphasized). Fear not, noble students; in order to gain an understanding of why Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she did, or why The Clash became popular when they did, we will talk about what was going on in Great Britain when each piece was penned.

We will also be writing. Often. This will give you the chance to improve your communication skills and interact with the consumables on a deeper level. We will be writing some form of essay once every other week.

In addition to all of this, you will learn how to consume. I understand that all of you know how to read, but reading and consuming are different. One reads Lord of the Flies to enjoy a (sometimes) terrifying story about boys stranded on an island. One consumes the novel to shed light on humanity’s occasional darkness, to reflect on his or her society, to… well, we’ll get into that later.

You will come away from this course with a solid understanding of British culture and consumables, and a solid grasp on research/writing mechanics. If that's not enough, you’ll be more interesting—you’ll get all of those Brit Lit allusions in Family Guy (e.g. Brian: "Does a dog not feel? If you scratch us do our legs not kick?" or even better, from the episode "The King is Dead," when a group of monkeys are writing Shakespeare: "No, they did that on last week's Marlowe").

Fake Schedule

It’s fake because we will never get to all of these works, because we will be sidetracked often, because we will spend lots of time on one section because we really get into it, because we may find better things to read, and because we will not go in this order. You have been warned. But we will listen to The Clash. I’m sorry to have to put my foot down, but The Clash will be listened to and thoroughly enjoyed. Thoroughly. Enjoyed.

The other reason this is a fake reading list is that I am not sure what we should do with it. I have plenty of lessons planned, and a timeline for us to learn the nuts and bolts of writing, but it matters little what we write about. So, I have two guidelines for this section: We all consume together, and we write some papers. Oh, and The Clash thing. Other than that, I’m open. Bring stuff in for us all to read if you’d like (Clean, though. So help me if it isn’t clean!), watch, draw, listen to, whatever. We will work, but I don’t know what we will be consuming at any one time. Like a little Cracker Jack prize for your junior year, only you’ll be tested over it. Surprise!

So here it is. If I have left something off, spelled something wrong, given a book the wrong author, etc., let me know. I won’t actually change it, but it would be good to know for the future.

Section One: These are the songs that we sing…

We will begin with this section, but come back to it throughout the year. In this section I’ll explain what it means to consume a work, and how to write while you’re reading a book. Imagine having your paper nearly finished by the time you finish the book—wouldn’t that be nice?

Poetry set to music

The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Revolver, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…

Fairport Convention

The Rolling Stones

The Who’s Tommy

The Clash’s London Calling, Black Market Clash

Nick Drake

The Smiths

Radiohead's OK Computer

Coldplay's Viva la Vita

Portishead’s Dummy

Poetry set to paper

Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask”

Dylan Thomas

John Donne’s “Meditation #17”

Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier"

Siegfried Sassoon's "Dreamers"

Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning"

T.S. Eliot

Those Big Romantic Six: Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, Blake, and Shelley

Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est"

Winston Churchill's "Be Ye Men of Valor"

Section Two: About a Boy

We will make a smooth transition from Donne’s “Meditation #17” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock” (not British, but thematically applicable) into About a Boy by Nick Hornby. You are responsible for purchasing this. If you have trouble making the purchase, let me know as soon as possible and I will take care of it. About a Boy is a novel about one immature man who meets a 12-year old who is going on 30. In coming together, they learn from one another and grow because of it. In this section, we’ll be discussing maturity, “coolness,” family, friends, and identity. This will be our first major work of length, and there are one or two sections with questionable language, so now is as good a time as any to make the

Classroom Content Disclaimer: As this is a college preparatory high school, we will be discussing some difficult and sometimes controversial topics in this class. That being said, if you have an objection to anything being presented please do not hesitate to let me know. Talk it over with your parents, ask what they think. I will make the necessary changes to the assignment, or provide an alternative work for you to read. The change will be subtle, and no one will be the wiser. If you prefer not to come to me in person (though I would appreciate that), just email me. No worries.

Section Three: Lord of the Flies

While our focus in reading About a Boy was primarily thematic (looking at what the story tells us about “coolness,” friends, family, maturity, etc.), we will concern ourselves with the symbolism of the novel, how metaphor works, why we need it, and use the word “microcosm” a lot.

Section Four: Billy Shakespeare’s Pomo-a-go-go

This round will be devoted to Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1966) and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c. 1601). Both works are masterfully written, and together make an interesting juxtaposition of English Renaissance and Modern cultures.

Section Five: Romantic Literature

If you’ve read Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, excellent—we’re reading it again. There is so much to discuss with this work that we could devote an entire session to it. Perhaps we will…


This could also be called “The Fine Print,” but it is important so I’m keeping it readable. No Charlie and the Chocolate Factory surprise clauses here.


See Plagiarism


You may check your progress on the online gradebook (I’ll give you the address and information as soon as it is set up). If something doesn’t look right, I prefer grade questions via email (rather than in class) because it takes a minute to look up your file, and I only have 70 per day with you guys!

A large portion of your grade will be based on your participation in class discussions. It is important that you all become comfortable speaking/sharing in class—ideas, insights, things you are currently reading, your best British accent, that sort of thing. The remainder of your semester grade will be divided between various projects, papers, and your final(s). We will work out the percentages for each assignment. I am willing to change any of this if you guys can give me a good reason to do so.