English 123 - Fall, 2015

Topics in 18th Century British Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Menely, Tobias
Time: TR 4:40-6:00
Location: 226 Wellman


    "Humans and Other Animals in the Eighteenth-Century Imagination"

    In a magnificent description of his cat Jeoffry, the poet Christopher Smart observes, “For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.” In this course, we’ll ask how writers, from the Restoration to the Romantic period, thought about and represented animals: cats and horses, insects and elephants, as well as that most contradictory and enigmatic creature, the human being. We’ll consider how Milton revises the scriptural story of Adam’s naming of the animals; how Ovid and Virgil (as translated by John Dryden) define the unique proximity of poetry to animal voices; how poems about hunting and pet-keeping respond to Cartesian skepticism about animal mind. We’ll analyze moments when humans find their sense of humanity troubled by encounters with other species, like Gulliver in the land of rational horses, the Houyhnhnms. We'll discover that in the long eighteenth century the presence of animals—our “earth-born companion[s] / and fellow-mortal[s],” as Robert Burns writes—raised foundational questions: about the conditions of knowledge, the nature of rights and responsibilities, and, above all, about what it means, as human beings, to know the world through language.

    We’ll be using a custom Broadview course pack as well as a course reader.


    Two Essays: 50%
    Discussion Forum: 30%
    Take-Home Final Exam: 20%


    Broadview Custom course pack