English 171 [Brown University]: Anglo-American Nonfiction (Topic for 2003: Sages and Satirists)

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University


Weeks 1 and 2. 3 through 12 September. A. Defining Genre or Mode -- What is nonfiction? B. The Modern Sage as Exegete of the Real Reading: Joan Didion, The White Album. [reading questions]; Jonathan Swift, "A Modest Proposal" [text -- reading questions]

Week 3. 15-19 September. Wisdom Speakers: Montaigne and Johnson

Reading: Michel de Montaigne, "Of Cannibals" [text -- reading questions]; Samuel Johnson, selected essays: Rambler 172, 180, 182, 184, 196, Adventurer 50, 84, 108. See the reading and discussion questions plus genre and style section.

Suggested readings: relevant section of Elegant Jeremiahs; Carlyle on Johnson (from Heroes and Hero-Worship) [text].

Week 4. 22-26 September. Victorian Sages (I): Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle, "Signs of the Times" (text) "Hudson's Statue" (annotated text and commentary), Past and Present; Carlyle on Johnson (from Heroes and Hero-Worship) [text].

Week 5. 29 September-3 October. Victorian Sage (II): John Ruskin. Unto This Last, "Traffic," and selections from Praeterita.

Week 6. 6-10 October. [October 13: Columbus Day holiday]. Victorian Sages (III): Thoreau. "Civil Disobedience" [text], "Slavery in Massachusetts," "A Plea for John Brown" [text], "The Last days of John Brown," "Life without Principle." [Reading and discussion questions]

Week 7. 15-17 October. The Sage and Wisdom Speaker Parodied: Max Beerbohm, "A Defence of Cosmetics" [text], "Diminuendo" [text]; Richard La Gallienne, "The Boom in Yellow" [text]; Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying" [text]; Walter Pater, "The Preface," "Conclusion," and section on La Giocanda (Mona Lisa) from The Renaissance [text].

Week 8. 20-24 October. The Sage as Traveler, the Traveler as Sage: D. H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy and Etruscan Places. [Reading and discussion questions]

Week 9. 27-31 October. The Sage in Search of Heroism in a Technological Age: Tom Wolfe. Reading: The Right Stuff. Reading and discussion questions]

Week 10. 3-7 November. The Sage as Traveler, the Traveler as Sage: John McPhee, The Crofter and the Laird. [Reading and discussion questions]

Week 11. 10-14 November. The Sage as Traveler, the Traveler as Sage: Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia.[Reading and discussion questions]

Week 12. 17-21 November. The Sage as (Mental) Traveler, the Traveler as Sage: Annie Dillard. A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. [Reading and discussion questions]

Weeks 13, 14. 24 November, 2-6 December. The Autobiographer as Sage: Sara Suleri, Meatless Days.

Thanksgiving recess: 26-30 November.

7-10 December: Reading period; 12-20 December: Final Exam Period

Final Essays and Projects, 2003

Related Resources


  1. Carlyle, Thomas. Selected Writings. Penguin.
  2. Chatwin, Bruce. In Patagonia. Summit.
  3. Didion, Joan. The White Album.
  4. Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence and Italy. Viking.
  5. Dillard, Annie. A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
  6. McPhee, John. The Crofter and the Laird. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
  7. Ruskin, John. Unto this Last and Other Writings. Penguin.
  8. Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days. University of Chicago.
  9. Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Bantam.

Victorian Web Victorian courses

Last modified 2 October 2003