ENGL 111: The Material Worlds of the Brontë Sisters

Terms Taught

Winter 2020


This composition course was organized around reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, which discussions and writing assignments geared toward investigating the physical worlds of the novels and of the students themselves.


We might be forgiven for thinking of literary texts as repositories of disembodied experiences: emotions felt at one remove, only inside our heads. But novels are also archives of experiences in the world, detailed representations of physical environments and affective, imaginative responses to them. Indeed, we often forget that reading itself is an embodied experience in close contact with a book, an object designed to give you particular sensations. In this course, we will use writing as a way to engage with the world, with places and things that connect us to history and each other. We will do so by reading, talking, and writing about two novels: Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, written by sisters Emily and Charlotte Brontë. These books create unusually intense emotional experiences while also acting as conduits for understanding how places and everyday objects – clothes, furniture, mementos, handwriting – connect us through our senses to each other, ourselves, even global history and social issues.

The goal of the course is not that you end up with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Brontës’ writings or material culture (though this is a risk you will have to take). Rather, you will conduct a case study in how literature helps us think critically and intuitively about the world, refine your writing and reading skills, and pick up habits that will help you communicate more effectively in different academic and professional settings. You will be assessed on a self-chosen portfolio consisting of substantially revised versions of your most effective writing from the quarter, and a final critical essay reflecting on your growth toward core learning goals.