What is the course about?
The course looks at how the Self is imagined in some key literary works of the Early Modern, Romantic and Modernist periods: Hamlet (Shakespeare); Romantic Poetry (Keats and Coleridge) and The Waves (Virginia Woolf). We will draw on extracts from the writings of Montaigne, Rousseau, William James and Bergson to inform our reading.
An experienced teacher of literature and humanities, Sophie Oxenham worked for the Open University, Leeds University, and a range of adult learning institutions before joining City Lit. Previously she freelanced as a theatre and opera director in community theatre and at English National Opera. She has an MA in Nineteenth Century Literature, a PhD in Early Modern Life Writing, and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She loves sharing her enthusiasm for literature with adult learners.
What will we cover?
We will begin by looking at extracts from Montaigne’s Essays. Montaigne wrote that he sought to ‘portray’ himself in all its ‘imperfections’. His wonderfully digressive essays reflect his experience that “I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering with a natural drunkenness… I do not portray being. I portray passing.” Montaigne’s idea that ‘we are double in ourselves’ will be considered in relation to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, looking at key soliloquies from the play.
We will then consider short extracts from Rousseau’s autobiographical work ‘Confessions’. Often regarded as the father of Romanticism for his emphasis on the value of subjective, authentic experience, we will explore some of the tensions within Rousseau’s work, and consider how those are reflected in selected Romantic Poetry by Coleridge and Keats.
Finally, we will explore Modernist selfhood through Virginia Woolf’s fascination with consciousness. Woolf admired Montaigne, and we see his persistent influence in how she imagines selfhood. Drawing on her essays, extracts from William James on ‘stream of consciousness’, and Bergson on time, we will think about the representation of Self in her novel, ‘The Waves’.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
Understand and define some of the ways in which ideas about selfhood have changed in selected literary texts of the Early Modern, Romantic and Modernist periods.
Understand some of the ways in which extracts from selected autobiographical, philosophical and psychological texts can inform our reading of selected literary texts.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
The course is open to all; you do not need to have prior knowledge to participate. You will need an enthusiasm for engaging in close reading of literary texts, and for thinking about these in relation to extracts from autobiographical and philosophical texts.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The course will be taught through class discussion and visual slides. You will find it helpful to watch or read ‘Hamlet’ before the first class to get an overview (we will read some of the soliloquies together in class).
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Please bring copies of Hamlet (Shakespeare) and The Waves (Virginia Woolf). Handouts of selected Romantic poetry and short extracts from contextual autobiographical and philosophical works will be provided.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Please look up other courses in Literature under History, Culture and Writing at www.citylit.ac.uk.