English Language & Literature

In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.




—C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism



Great literature, of which C. S. Lewis speaks, is the gateway to that vast range of human experience which can be expressed and shared with a countless multitude only by means of verbal language transfigured by the moral imagination. Great literature allows the serious reader to enter into the very heart and mind of man, wherein the perennial conflict between good and evil is waged.

The study of literature and language, as uniquely human, is central to a balanced liberal arts curriculum. It should, indeed, train the student to express himself coherently and read critically. But it is also a gateway to the great achievements of the human imagination throughout the ages. It is the purpose of our Department of English Language and Literature to lead the student on that spiritual, intellectual, and aesthetic journey in pursuit of the human heart and soul which is the essence of literary study. As Ezra Pound wrote, “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree,” and the student of great literature may thus become aware, perhaps for the first time, of the power of language to convey a wide range of human and transcendent truths.

The Christendom student of literature enters into the great conversation with the best practitioners of the literary art, who have also been the “seers”(cf. L vates) of our civilization. The student learns to see through the eyes of the literary artist both the concrete reality of human life and the ultimate reality of human destiny. The great conversation with some of the best minds of the Western world, which literary study entails, is made all the more fruitful when engaged within the context of the certainties of the Catholic Faith. Thus we are not at sea with a multitude of options; we are secure in the Bark of Peter as the glory and misery of God”s image in this world spreads before us in masterworks of literature.

At Christendom the study of literature does not take place in a vacuum. During the first four semesters, the Literature of Western Civilization core curriculum runs parallel with the History of Western Civilization core, in which each discipline is mutually informed and illumined by the other, as well as by Thomistic philosophy and theology and the study of languages. By writing essays and research papers in the context of analyzing and appreciating major works of imaginative literature, the student develops the skills required for composition and critical reading. These skills are learned through close reading of classic texts and guidance in literary criticism. The Literature Department does not employ large anthologies, in which small fragments of texts are quickly scanned; students are expected to read and master complete works.

The Literature core curriculum consists of a two-year study of the great tradition in Western literature from Homer to T. S. Eliot, with concomitant development of the student’s skills in composition and literary analysis. See the individual course descriptions of ENGL 101-202 The Literature of Western Civilization I-IV for particulars.

The Literature Department also offers a variety of upper-division period and genre courses covering British and American literature from their beginnings through the twentieth century. The literatures of the Greek, Roman, and Patristic eras, as well as that of Medieval Christendom, are also studied, both for their own sake, and because of their formative influence on the Anglo-American literary tradition. In addition to the comprehensive treatment of literature in the vernacular from the Middle Ages to the present, students have access to a wide range of electives. Courses in the History of the English Language and in Old English (language), as well as on Chaucer in his original Middle English, “the font of English undefiled,” also are available for those willing to delve more deeply into the linguistic foundations of our Mother Tongue.

At Christendom College language is understood in the light of the divine Logos, the incarnate Word who communicates the love of the Father for His creation. We understand God to be the guarantor of meaning in human language—that is, that a true representation of reality may be expressed in words—and of the possibility of transmitting meaning from one soul to another through the medium of literature as well as the spoken word. Our literature courses are intended to make available the rich patrimony of Western culture, and to form a Christian perspective on the ways the great writers have used their intellects and imaginations to understand and convey the mystery of man’s place in the world.

Requirements for the Literature MajorTwenty-seven hours of advanced work (300-512) are required for the major, including:

  • ENGL 319 Literary Criticism
  • ENGL 320 Poetry and Poetics
  • ENGL 343 or 344 Shakespeare
  • Four courses at the 300-400 level, two courses from each of two categories

    representing significant periods in literary history:

         Category A: “Classical to Neo-Classical” (qualifying courses include: ENGL 317,
                                 321, 322, 331, 332, 334, 341, 342, 343, 344, 417, 418)

         Category B: “Romantic to Recent” (qualifying courses include: ENGL 361, 362,
                                421, 422, 431, 432, 460)

  • one additional English Language & Literature elective (300 or 400 level)
  • ENGL 512 Senior Thesis

Eighteen credit hours of advanced courses (ENGL 300-499) are required for the minor. A course grade of at least C-minus is necessary for a course to fulfill the department’s major or minor requirements.

Most advanced courses are taught annually or in a two-year cycle, so that required courses will be available to every student, though some courses are offered only every three or four years. Students should see the department chairman for a list of courses to be offered during the students’ two-year matriculation in the major. On occasion, newly developed courses may be offered which might qualify for the category requirements. The department chairman will clarify for which category each course qualifies, if applicable. Courses carry three semester hours of credit unless otherwise noted.

Students who complete a major in the ENGL department will:

  • understand the ideas of the major literary critics and critical movements from antiquity to the present day
  • understand key literary terminology
  • be able to compose a poem analysis
  • be able to write a major research paper on a literary topic
  • successfully orally defend their senior theses

Foundational Curriculum 

ENGL 100Writing and Study Skills Workshop: This course is designed to help students develop study habits that will foster efficient, successful academic work; know the fundamentals of English grammar as a basis for understanding good style; read thoughtfully; and learn to write clear, well-structured, scholarly essays. Required only of students who do not demonstrate sufficient competency in their college-level writing. (1 credit hour)

ENGL 101–Literature of Western Civilization I: This first-semester freshman course begins Christendom College’s two-year literature core curriculum studying masterworks of the Western literary imagination. Beginning with the wisdom of St. Basil the Great’s Address to Young Men on Reading Greek Literature, the course focuses on reading, analyzing, and writing about the Homeric epic and Classical Greek tragedy, including the Iliad and the Odyssey, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and Aeschylus’s dramatic trilogy, the Oresteia, in the light of the Poetics of Aristotle. Developing the student’s writing skills through practice in composition, specifically exposition and argumentation, conforming to academic standards of format and style, is a complementary goal of the Literature of Western Civilization core curriculum. Required of all students.

ENGL 102-Literature of Western Civilization II: The second semester of the Western literature core focuses on the literary, philosophical, and thematic continuity from late Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Included are three forms of the epic: Virgil’s Aeneid, the Old English Beowulf, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. In addition to extensive writing practice, students receive an introduction to the conduct of academic research. Required of all students.

ENGL 201–The Literature of Western Civilization III: The third semester of the Western literature core treats vernacular literature of the High Middle Ages through the seventeenth century, beginning with a work of medieval Arthurian romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Students then consider work by Chaucer, followed by the medieval Mystery play, the Second Shepherds’ Play, and the morality play Everyman; Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth; and finally, Milton’s Paradise Lost. The course also undertakes the study of selected lyric poems. Required of all students.

ENGL 202–The Literature of Western Civilization IV: The fourth semester of the literature core examines literary developments within the context of the secularization of Western culture consequent to the fragmentation of Christendom during the Protestant Revolt and the Enlightenment. Focusing on the tensions emerging between a Christian understanding of man’s nature and destiny and the various distorted modern views of man, students will study Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hawthorne’s short stories, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. A recovery of the Christian vision of man in the twentieth century will be investigated in Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday,” Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and short stories by Flannery O’Connor. Lyric poetry is also examined in this class. Required of all students.

Advanced Courses 

ENGL 312–Advanced Rhetoric and Composition: A theoretical and practical study of the art of effective persuasive writing. By being introduced to the classical rhetorical tradition, the student is able to achieve greater proficiency in exposition, argument, and persuasion.

ENGL 317–History of the English Language: A philological and literary study of the English language from its Old English monuments to the beginning of the Modern English period, with some consideration of English in its role as a global language.

ENGL 319–Literary Criticism: A survey of the varied explanations of the merit and purpose of imaginative literature from Plato to such modern and post-modern literary theories as structuralism and deconstruction. Authors studied may include Aristotle, Longinus, Horace, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Sidney, Jonson, Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Arnold, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, and important contemporary critical theorists. In addition to aesthetics and theory, students will be introduced to techniques of practical criticism. This course is required for the Literature major.

ENGL 320–Poetry and Poetics: This course seeks to impart to the student a panoramic knowledge of the lyric tradition and contemporary developments in poetry in the English language. Special attention will be given to developing the student’s close-reading and interpretive skills through fluency in prosody and figurative language. This course is required for the Literature major.

ENGL/CECS 321–Classical and Early Christian Literature: An advanced study of Greek and Latin literature, both the pagan classics and the early Christian authors who drew from them. The course focuses on the genres of poetry, tragedy, oratory, and satire, and includes such authors as Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Plutarch, Horace, Seneca, Longinus, Prudentius, St. Augustine, and other Church Fathers. The course aims at encouraging the student to be a judicious and conversant reader of classical and early Christian literature. (Cross-listed in Classical and Early Christian Studies)

ENGL 322–The Literature of Medieval Christendom: This course examines works of imaginative and mystical literature which reflect major literary, intellectual, and spiritual currents of the Middle Ages on the continent and in England, such as the chanson de geste, Arthurian romance, troubadour and Goliard lyric, and allegorical dream-vision.

ENGL 331–Literature of Anglo-Saxon England: A survey of Old English and Anglo-Latin literature from the eighth through the eleventh centuries. Works of St. Bede the Venerable, Old English heroic poetry, elegies, wisdom poems, and religious poetry and prose are studied in light of the Christian transformation of Anglo-Saxon culture (A.D. 597-1066).

ENGL 332–Middle English Literature: Survey of Middle English literature (12th-15th centuries), including lyric poetry, Arthurian epic, chivalric romances, dream visions, religious prose, and medieval drama.

ENGL 334–Chaucer: Close study of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, with special emphasis on The Canterbury Tales. The student gains facility in reading and understanding the Middle English text of Chaucer and comes to an appreciation of Chaucer’s mind and literary art in the context of late fourteenth-century Catholic culture.

ENGL 341–Renaissance English Literature: This course surveys dramatic and non-dramatic prose and verse literature up to 1660, covering such works as Thomas More’s Utopia, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Ben Jonson’s comedy Volpone, The Spanish Tragedy, and The Duchess of Malfi. Students also learn about many facets of lyric poetry by examining the sonnet form from its arrival in England to its use by master sonneteers and delving into Metaphysical and Cavalier poetry.

ENGL 342–Restoration and Eighteenth-Century English Literature (1660-1798): A survey of the major poets, dramatists, and prose authors, exclusive of the great novelists of the period, including John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, William Congreve, Alexander Pope, John Gay, Thomas Gray, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, and Frances Burney.

ENGL 343–Shakespeare: Comedies and Romances Study of a representative selection from the comedies and romances, including the so-called “problem comedies.” Includes study of such issues as Renaissance theatre, the question of authorship, and Shakespeare and Catholicism. This course or ENGL 344 is required for the Literature major.

ENGL 344–Shakespeare: Histories and Tragedies Study of a representative selection of Shakespeare’s English history (“chronicle”) plays and tragedies. Emphasis is placed not only on Shakespeare’s technical brilliance as a poet and dramatist, but also on his handling of universal themes and on his roots in the traditional Christian culture of England as well as of Catholic Europe. This course or ENGL 343 is required for the Literature major.

ENGL 346–The Metaphysical Poets: This course involves the study of the seventeenth-century English poets referred to since the time of Dr. Johnson as “Metaphysical,” with special focus on John Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Crashaw.

ENGL 361–English Romantic Literature (1798-1832): A survey of verse and prose of major authors of the English Romantic movement, with reference to their Continental counterparts. Included are such authors as William Blake, William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Southey, and William Hazlitt.

ENGL 362–English Victorian Literature (1832-1901): A survey of major verse and prose of the Victorian Era in England. Included are such authors as Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning, John Henry Newman, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walter Pater, and Rudyard Kipling.

ENGL 417–Old English: This course introduces students to Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain from the sixth through the eleventh centuries, with a focus on Late West Saxon, the dialect in which the vast majority of extant Old English documents was written. The goal of the course is to give the student sufficient reading knowledge of Old English to enable him to appreciate the literature in its original language. The student will read selections from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the OE version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, portions of Beowulf, and The Battle of Brunanburh (A.D. 937) in its entirety. In addition to the study of Old English grammar and lexicon, consideration will be given to the historical importance of the OE period in the cultural, literary, and religious development of the English-speaking peoples.

ENGL 418–Readings in Old English Literature: Building upon the facility gained from ENGL 417 in reading Old English, the student undertakes progressively more difficult texts: prose from the homilies of Ælfric, the elegies, and finally longer poems such as The Dream of the Rood, The Battle of Maldon, and Beowulf.

ENGL 421–The English Novel: A survey of the emergence and development of the novel as a genre of English literature. Close attention is paid to the novel’s antecedents among other literary forms, its characteristic techniques in style and structure, and to the social conditions and philosophic outlook associated with the rise of the novel. Included are a selection of works by such authors as Defoe, Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, Scott, Austen, Thackeray, the Brontë sisters, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Hardy, Conrad, Greene, or Waugh.

ENGL 422–The American Novel: A survey covering the growth and development of the American novel, with attention to English and Continental antecedents and the particular conditions of the American social order. Authors studied may include James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Walker Percy, or Wendell Berry.

ENGL 431–Foundations of American Literature: American literature offers a unique medium in which to observe the tensions between the Old World and the New. This course studies the fundamental conflicts and features intrinsic to American literature through a survey beginning with the New England Puritans Winthrop, Bradstreet, and Taylor, and the Great Awakening’s Jonathan Edwards. The investigation continues by evaluating the establishment of a national literature, with Franklin and Irving, and then goes on to examine the rich texture of American romanticism, including Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe. The course concludes with Twain, Crane, and the rise of realism in the nineteenth century.

ENGL 432–Modern and Recent American: This course builds on the characteristic features of American literature as studied in ENGL 431. Continuing to observe the tensions and trends which help define American literature, ENGL 432 complements its predecessor by focusing on the development of American literature during and after the 20th century. The works examined may include the poetry of E. A. Robinson, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, or Robert Penn Warren; the fiction of Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, or Wendell Berry; and the drama of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, or Arthur Miller.

ENGL/HIST 460–The Catholic Literary Revival: This course examines the literary revival of orthodox Catholicism in modern Britain. It treats a wide variety of genres, including realistic fiction, fantasy literature, poetry, history, and social criticism. Students discuss texts in seminar discussions and conduct original research on the work of a modern Catholic author. Among the writers studied are G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, David Jones, Christopher Dawson, J. R. R. Tolkien, and such members of high Anglo-Catholic circles as T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy L. Sayers. (Cross-listed in History)

ENGL 489–Honors Seminar: A seminar on a special topic in literature to be determined by the department chairman in consultation with interested and qualified students and faculty. Prerequisites: Minimum 3.25 GPA and permission of the Department Chairman. (4 credits hours)

ENGL 490-99–Special Topics or Directed Studies in Literature: Specially designed courses of readings and research in areas not sufficiently covered by another course already in the curriculum.

ENGL 512–Senior Seminar and Thesis: Each student prepares his senior thesis in this course, and may be required to defend it in an oral presentation. For the Literature major, this course is the culmination of his four-year concentration on the arts of language, written and spoken. The topic and thesis statement must be approved by the thesis director or Department Chairman the semester before the Senior Thesis is undertaken.