English 171 (08) Brown University: Anglo-American Nonfiction (Topic for 2005: Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists)

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

Professor Landow (office: 338 Carr House; e-mail: george@landow.com); office hours: 10.30-12:00, Tuesday and Thursday. Class meets in Sayles Hall 014, 1-2:20 AM, Tuesday and Thursday (J hour; exam group 10).

Note: Check this on-line reading list at the beginning of each week since assignments may change or be reordered.


Weekly discussion questions. The weekly reading and discussion question has three parts: (a) you will choose a substantial passage of 1-3 paragraphs (please don't forget page numbers -- and to give your question set a title); (b) a graceful and effective introduction to the passage or the aspect of the painting that suggests why the reader wants to examine it closely; and (c) 4-5 questions, chiefly concerning matters of technique and comparison, for which you do not have to have answers. These exercises, which provide the basis of class discussion, should be e-mailed to me no later than 6 pm Monday before we begin discussing the reading. (You can skip a single set of questions during the semester, and we may not have one the final week of classes.) Follow for an example of such reading questions for another course.

Weeks 1 and 2 Thursday 26 through 3 February. 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]; A Master of Satire: Jonathan Swift, "A Modest Proposal" [text -- reading questions]

Week 3 Tuesday, 8 February. 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.

Weeks 4-6. 15 through 28 February. Translation exercise (or style is a mode of thought): Reading: Tom Wolfe, "The Pump House Gang." Assignments: (1) reading and discussion questions for Wolfe; (2) translate three paragraphs of Johnson into Wolfe's prose and three of Wolfe's into Johnson's.

Brown Long Weekend: 19-22 February

Week 7. 1 March. The Victorian Sages (I): Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle, "Signs of the Times" (text) "Hudson's Statue" (annotated text and commentary); Carlyle on Johnson (from Heroes and Hero-Worship) [text]. Suggested readings: relevant section of Elegant Jeremiahs

Week 8. 8 March. The Victorian Sages (II): John Ruskin. Unto This Last, "Traffic," and Modern Painters, Volume 1, chapters "On the Truth of Color" and "On the Truth of Water" (at U.of Lancaster, UK).

Week 9. 15 March. The 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 10. Tuesday, 22 March. 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].

Spring recess: 26 March through 3 April.

Week 11. Tuesday, 6 April. The Sage in Search of a Hero: Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff. [Reading and discussion questions]

Week 12. Tuesday, 12 April. The Sage as Traveler, the Traveler as Sage: Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia.[Reading and discussion questions]

Week 13. Tuesday, 19 April. The Sage as (Mental) Traveler, the Traveler as Sage: Annie Dillard. A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. [Reading and discussion questions]

Week 14. Tuesday, 26 April. The Autobiographer as Sage: Sara Suleri, Meatless Days.

29 April-10 May: Reading period may be used as an expansion week; 11-20 May: Final Exam Period

Related Resources

Final Essays and Projects


  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 11 May 2005