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ENGLISH 3WE3 British Romantic Lit & Culture (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2020

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Peter Walmsley


Office: Chester New Hall 323

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23728

Office Hours: Wednesdays 2:30-4:20PM; or by appointment

Course Objectives:


This course engages with British literary production in the Romantic period (roughly 1770 to 1840), which saw the development of many cultural practices, discourses, and attitudes that we would recognize as modern. This was a period distinguished by a revolutionary fervour, with many voices advocating ends to monarchy, class hierarchy, and the exploitation of the poor. It saw foundational articulations about the rights of women and abolition of slavery that still resonate today. At the same time, the early nineteenth century witnessed the consolidation of the British empire in Africa, South Asia, and the Pacific and the suppression of slave revolts in the Caribbean, while the failure of the French Revolution led to reactionary politics, public surveillance, and the curtailment of political rights in Britain. Partly in response to this newly repressive public sphere, much of the writing of this period turns inward, celebrating the imagination and the creative self, or turns to the natural world for pleasure and solace. Some of the most popular Romantic works were long gothic or Orientalist fantasies, ostensibly escapist works that none the less offered coded expression of social uncertainty and political violence.  

We will chart how these developments were variously embraced, negotiated, and resisted by authors speaking from a variety of social positions and in a wide range of literary forms. Poetry was a dominant mode of literary production in the Romantic period, but we will also read a gothic novel, an addiction narrative, children’s books, political manifestos, scientific treatises, and an ethnography. Writings by and about women will form a substantial part of the readings, encouraging an interrogation of the role of gender and feminism in these emerging discourses.  Excerpts from theoretical and critical readings will be integrated in classes throughout the term. Through a Romantic Things Project, you will have an opportunity to complement your study of Romantic literature by engaging with the period’s material culture.


This course aims to:

  • familiarize you with writing in English between 1770 and 1840, with particular attention to how authors participate in cultural transformation and how they invent new literary kinds and rework inherited forms
  • develop your skills at close textual analysis, encouraging you to read slowly, for detail and nuance
  • introduce you to key concepts in the fields of Romantic literary history and cultural studies, and to equip you to bring important terms and intellectual frameworks into conversation with cultural texts
  • foster active engagement with course materials and develop collaborative work practices and communication skills through group work in class
  • provide the opportunity to develop archival skills through working with original Romantic-era material objects
  • enhance your skills at sourcing and critiquing the work of other scholars, and
  • encourage you to continue to improve your writing skills, by offering guidance in the art of writing clear, well-argued, and well-supported analyses and arguments.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:



The two required texts have been bundled by Broadview at reduced cost, and are available in the Campus Store:

  • The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: Volume 4: The Age of Romanticism
  • William Beckford, Vathek, Ed. Kenneth W. Graham (Broadview)

Other primary materials are available either through Avenue or web links.

Essential Online Resources:

  • Guides to the mechanics of essay presentation and documentation:

MLA Format, Purdue Online Writing Lab

First-Year English and Cultural Studies Handbook

  • A dictionary that traces the shifting history of words: the Oxford Dictionary is available to you through Mills Library.

Method of Assessment:



Reading/Reflection Papers: (select 2 of 8 opportunities over the semester; see weekly schedule for dates). Each paper will include a 1-page text annotation plus a 300-word reflection on the significance of the passage. 2 papers @ 10% each. Upload to A2L by 11:59 pm on the date indicated (i.e. the day before we discuss that text in class). You must complete at least 1 of these 2 short papers by Feb. 11.                                                                                                                                                                                    20%

Contributions to Class Notes Archive (2 uploads to A2L x 2.5% each, pass/fail). Must be uploaded within 24 hours after the lecture. Visit A2L to sign up for two dates and to see notetaking tips.                                                                                                                                                                             5%

Romantic Things Project: locate, spend time with, interpret, and critique a real material object created between 1770 and 1830 (2 PowerPoint Slides and a 700 to 1000-word report): upload to A2L by 11:59 pm on Friday Feb. 14.                                                                                                              20%

Research Essay (1500 words: paper copy due in lecture April 7)                     30%

Final Exam (2 hours; Scheduled by the Office of the Registrar)                        25%

NB:  Full details of these assignments will be posted on A2L.

Assignments submitted late will be reduced one grade per day late up to 7 days. For example, a B+ paper handed in two days late would be lowered to a B-. Saturday and Sunday are included in the calculation of days late. Exceptions may be made for students with SAS accommodations.

In the case of the Class Notes Archive, if you end up missing a class you signed up for, just sign up for a subsequent class.

Please keep a copy of all work submitted for the course.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Schedule of Readings and Assignments

NB:  Most readings are found in the print Broadview Anthology: Volume 4, but some must be accessed through the supplementary Broadview Anthology of British Literature Online at A few readings are available on the web or will be posted on Avenue. 

Week 1:     Revolution and Reaction

Jan. 7: Introduction

Jan. 8: from Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (67-74); from

            Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (17-25); William Blake, Marriage of Heaven

            and Hell (107-15)

Week 2:     Revolution and Reaction

Jan. 14: Phillis Wheatley, “His Excellency General Washington” (Avenue); Percy

            Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind” (935-7); William Wordsworth, on

            the French Revolution, from Prelude IX (Avenue)

                  Jan. 14: First Reading/Reflection opportunity on Shelley’s “1819” via A2L

Jan. 15: John Stedman, from Narrative of a Five-Year Expedition against the

            Revolted Negroes of Surinam (Avenue); Shelley, “England in 1819” (1005);

            partial screening of Peterloo (Mike Leigh dir.)

Week 3:     The Domestic Sphere/Women’s Rights

                  Jan. 21:  Anna Laetitia Barbauld, “Washing Day” (32-33); Samuel Taylor

                              Coleridge, “Frost at Midnight”(562-3)

Jan. 21: Second Reading/Reflection opportunity on Wollstonecraft’s

            Vindication via A2L

Jan. 22: Mary Wollstonecraft, from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (139-

            55); Barbauld, “Rights of Woman” (41)

Week 4:     Childhood

Jan. 28: Barbauld, “To a Little Invisible Being” (40); John Newbery, Goody Two-

            Shoes (Avenue); W. Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality” (412-15),

            “We are Seven” (362), “Lucy Gray” (386)

Jan. 28: Third Reading/Reflection opportunity on Blake’s Songs via A2L

Jan. 29: Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience (89-107)

Week 5:     Constructing Selves

Feb. 4:  Dorothy Worthworth, from The Grasmere Journal (490-502); W.

            Wordsworth, from The Two-Part Prelude (419-33)

Feb. 4: Fourth Reading/Reflection opportunity on Wordworth’s The Prelude via


Feb. 5: W. Wordsworth, The Prelude cont’d

Week 6:     Bodymind/Addiction/Dreams

Feb. 11: John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale” (1103-4); Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”


Feb. 11: Fifth Reading/Reflection opportunity on De Quincy’s Opium Eater via


Feb. 12: Thomas De Quincy, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (full 1821

            version on BABL online)

Feb. 14: Romantic Things Projects due on A2L

Reading Week: Feb. 17 to 21, No Classes

Week 7:     Nature: Landscape and the Picturesque

Feb. 25: William Gilpin, from Three Essays (527-9); W. Wordsworth, “Tintern

                                    Abbey” (375-77)

Feb. 26:  Romantic Things Presentations

Week 8:     Nature: The Sublime

Mar. 3: Joseph Addison, Spectator No. 412 (509-11); Burke, from Philosophical

            Enquiry (514-20); Shelley, “Mont Blanc” (932-4)

Mar. 3: Sixth Reading/Reflection opportunity on Coleridge’s Rime via A2L

Mar. 4: Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1817 (564-74)

Week 9:     Nature: Other Animals; Science

                  Mar. 10: Barbauld, “Mouse’s Petition” (544-45); Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”

                              (198); Shelley, “To a Skylark” (938-9)

Mar. 10: Seventh Reading/Reflection opportunity on Smith’s “Beachy Head” via


Mar. 11: Thomas Bewick, from A History of British Birds (Avenue); Gilbert White,

from A Natural History of Selbourne (Avenue); Erasmus Darwin, from The Economy of Vegetation (Avenue); Wordsworth, “Steamboats” (415); Charlotte Smith, “Beachy Head” (49-63)

Week 10:   The Global: Caribbean Slavery; South Pacific Ethnography

Mar. 17: James Cook and Joseph Banks, “Description of King George’s Island

            [Tahiti]” (Avenue); Tupaia, drawings (Avenue); Lisa Reihana, In Pursuit of

            Venus [Infected] (Avenue)

Mar. 17: Seventh Reading/Reflection opportunity on Prince’s History via


Mar. 18: Mary Prince, History (703-19); Dread Scott, Slave Rebellion Re-


Week 11:   Fantasy: The Gothic

Mar. 24: Charlotte Smith, “Written in a Churchyard” (48); W. Wordsworth, “The

            Thorn” (363-7)

                  Mar. 24: Eighth Reading/Reflection opportunity on Keats’ Eve via A2L

Mar. 25: Keats, Eve of St. Agnes (1093-99)

Week 12:   Fantasy: Orientalism

Mar. 31: Shelley, “Ozymandias” (935); Beckford, Vathek

Apr. 1: Vathek cont’d

       Week 13:   Review

                        Apr. 7: Exam Review

                        Research Essay Due Apr. 7 in class, paper copy