Upper-Level Courses 2024-25

For most upper-level courses, the prerequisite is six credits of second-year English, third-year standing, or by permission of the instructor. See prerequisites for individual courses.

Fall 2024

CourseCourse DescriptionDegree RequirementProfessor
300Backgrounds to English LiteratureLiterature and Tradition, pre-1700Atkinson
314Modern Critical TheoryLiterature and CriticismLane
328Gender and Sexuality in LiteratureLiterature and CultureStephens
329Topics in Children's and Young Adult LiteratureLiterature and CultureGrafton
335Survey of Canadian LiteratureLiterature and CultureHorsburgh
342Topics in Renaissance LiteratureLiterature and Tradition, pre-1700Crover
348Topics in 18th-Century LiteratureLiterature and Traditions, 1700-1900Burgoyne
352Topics in 20th and 21st-Century LiteratureLiterature and TraditionsTorkko
390Topics in Word and ImageWord and ImageWatkins

Spring 2025

CourseCourse DescriptionDegree RequirementProfessor
325Topics in Environmental LiteratureLiterature and CultureSmith
326Topics in Globalization and CultureLiterature and CultureGrafton
330Topics in Speculative NarrativeLiterature and CultureSkibo
332Topics in Indigenous LiteraturesLiterature and CultureHorsburgh
350Topics in 19th-Century Literature Literature and Traditions, 1700-1900Hagan
396Literature and FilmWord and ImageScott
480Research MethodsLiterature and CriticismFinigan

Note: Any course descriptions or reading lists here are tentative. Check back for updates.

Course Descriptions: Fall 2024

ENGL 300: Backgrounds to English Literature

Professor Anna Atkinson

ENGL 300 (Backgrounds to English Literature)

We begin with the assumption that, as the old saying goes, the Bible is the greatest work of literature ever written by a committee. Although this statement is obviously offered light-heartedly, it contains some grains of truth that underwrite the way this course operates. First, in this course we will treat the Bible as a human document, and thus open to interpretation. Second, this course acknowledges that the Bible is not so much a single monolithic work as it is a collection of mythological, legal, historical, and cultural information, and that it was written not by a single author but by a large number of authors and editors at very specific cultural moments. In addition, the fact that the Bible is nearly always read in translation also means that it is always already interpreted. To read the Bible only as a clear, simple, and transparent message is to ignore both all that we understand about the way language works and all that we know about the way cultures evolve and change. Speaking of which, although Western culture is becoming increasingly secular, the Bible remains one of the Ur-texts to which many writers return. Its function is a model of the function of literature in most societies: to provide the outlines for law, wisdom, and prophecy (speaking for the voiceless). Its stories speak to the relationship between humanity and the unknowable, which includes the relationship between one human and another. Its status as a sacred text has been used to enforce cultural norms, and to justify extraordinary acts of humanity and inhumanity. We will examine a wide range of interpretations and uses (or abuses) of this text.

Because part of the purpose of this course is also to familiarize students with the Bible as a text, the focus will be on the most commonly re-told and most influential narratives of the Old and New Testaments.

ENGL 314: Modern Critical Theory

Professor Richard Lane

A survey of literary theory including Russian Formalism, Structuralism, New Criticism, Marxism, Feminism, Post-Colonialism, Post-Structuralism, and others. Each theory may be examined for its assumptions, applications, and textual strategies. This course will introduce the tools of criticism and a wide range of critical dispositions. ENGL 314 was formerly called ENGL 321; credit will not be granted for both courses. 

ENGL 328: Gender and Sexuality

Professor Melissa Stephens

ENGL 328 (Gender and Sexuality in Literature)

“Maybe the President can make a law. Like… you can’t make fun of boys that like to wear dresses or girls that like the colour green, and girls who love monster trucks.” (“Sam,” fourth grade student, Creating Gender Inclusive Schools)

“Can anyone of us here still afford to believe that efforts to reclaim the future can be private or individual? Can anyone here still afford to believe that the pursuit of liberation can be the sole and particular province of anyone particular race, or sex, or age, or religion, or sexuality, or class? Revolution is not a one-time event. It is becoming always vigilant for the smallest opportunity to make a genuine change in established, outgrown responses; for instance, it is learning to address each other’s difference with respect.” (Audre Lorde, “Learning from the 60s”)                                                                   

“Why should it be that if somebody walks a certain way they are discriminated against? Well, boys don’t walk that way, or girls don’t walk that way. Or if somebody appears in clothing that doesn’t conform to their gender assignment? Why would that be a problem? Why can’t that be a small and beautiful space of freedom? Right? Why wouldn’t we want that for our children?” (Judith Butler, “The Future of Gender Politics”)

ENGL 328 uses an intersectional lens through which to examine written and visual narratives of gender and sexuality, focusing on race and class diversity, disability, and 2LGBTQ+ experiences. We will explore theories of agency, trauma, affect, and desire in relation to topics such as reproduction and parenting, childhood and adolescence, education, and political activism.

ENGL 329: Topics in Children's and Young Adult Fiction

Professor Janet Grafton

ENGL 329 (Topics in Children's and Young Adult Literature)

The figure of the witch is experiencing a resurgence in contemporary literature, and "witch lit" has become a popular sub-genre. In this course, we will engage in a survey of children’s and YA fiction and trace the reinvention of the witch from evil to empowered within these genres. Conducting close readings from a range of literary formats, we will explore what this cultural shift reveals about attitudes to and relationships with gender, power, and age.

Possible readings could include fairy tales such as Baba Yaga, Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dahl’s The Witches, Murphy’s The Worst Witch, Leyh’s Snapdragon, and Ostertag’s Witch Boy

ENGL 335: Survey of Canadian Literature

Professor Amelia Horsburgh

This iteration of the course explores the writing of Canadian women writers throughout the past hundred years and challenges notions of the quotidian lives of girls and women as lackluster and devoid of pleasure. Using memoir, short story, essay, and novel, students disseminate the complexities of key thematic movements in Canadian literature with attention to strategies of body as voice to subvert the patriarchy and assert their agency. Select authors may include Martha Ostenso, Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Joy Kagawa, Margaret Atwood, Miriam Toews, Eden Robinson, Madelein Thien, Jasmine Sealy, and Eternity Martis.

ENGL 342: Topics in Renaissance Literature

Professor Sarah Crover

ENGL 342 (Topics in Renaissance Literature)

Renaissance Conversions

1550 to 1660 in England, or the period known as the English Renaissance, was an age of radical upheaval. Exploration of the Americas; the emerging protestant faith; new technologies and the resultant reconfiguration of both urban and natural environments; and the rise of the scientific method were sweeping away the world as it had been, and leaving uncertain possible realities in its wake. In this course, we will consider texts that foreground conversions – of bodies, of minds/souls, of space – and the questions these conversions raise about identity and the nature and staying power of transformation. In the course of our study, we will consider questions such as what was the relationship between art and transformation? How did theories of race or gender shape perceptions about the likelihood of a “true” conversion? How did rapidly obsolescing theories of alchemical transformation continue to inflect later Renaissance scientific and philosophical thought? Did converted spaces (reclaimed riverbanks, drained fens) retain elements of their former character? Possible texts may include selections from Sidney’s A Defence of Posesie, Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, Bacon’s Novum Organum Scientiarum, Herbert’s Psalms, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and More’s Utopia, as well as Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and selected books from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

ENGL 348: Topics in 18th-Century Literature

 This exploration of the late 18th century will focus on the rise of the Gothic novel and the emergence of British Romanticism as reactions to Enlightenment rationalism and the French Revolution.

ENGL 352: Topics in 20th and 21st Century Literature

Professor Deb Torkko
ENGL 352 (Topics in 20th and 21st Century Literature)

This course will explore the ways in which 20th- and 21st-century British writers experiment with the conventions of realist narrative in order to transgress the limiting boundaries of familiar categories and formulaic perceptions of the world. We will examine the ways in which writers react against, reject, or transform realist modes of representation and consider the ways in which the authors’ narrative strategies serve to express their strong social and ideological concerns. We will consider the ways in which the fiction draws attention to its status as fiction in order to question the relationship between fiction and reality, and we will consider the ways in which writers can provoke readers to think seriously and critically about the real world by creating characters, events, and settings that in many ways diverge from what readers would expect in everyday life – in reality. To this end, we will consider not just what is in a work of fiction but also how readers respond to the content and its representation. In many instances we will develop new ways of reading these works and will develop skills in describing and critiquing both their aesthetic and social complexities. Authors studied may be selected from the following: Ali Smith, Angela Carter, Bernadine Evaristo, Graham Swift, Ian McEwen, Irvine Welsh, Jeanette Winterson, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, Maggie O’Farrell, and Penelope Fitzgerald.

ENGL 390: Topics in Word and Image

Professor Paul Watkins

ENGL 390 (Topics in Word and Image)

Course Descriptions: Spring 2025

ENGL 325: Topics in Environmentalist Literature

Professor Toni Smith


The Wild and the Wilderness

Although seemingly natural, the construct of “wilderness” is a strange idea.  What is the world beyond human society? How can we come to know it, or can we? Is it a dangerous place? An idyllic one?  Should we get to know it better? Or stay away?

For North American colonial and settler writers, the wilderness allures and repels, as they are drawn to the mysteries but also seek to tame, know, and control the natural world. For Indigenous writers, is there such a construct as “wilderness” or is it simply home, the place to which humans belong, know intimately, and are eternally co-creating?

Join us to interrogate and explore the idea of wilderness in novels and other texts from North America and beyond.

ENGL 326: Topics in Globalization and Culture

Professor Janet Grafton

ENGL 326 (Topics in Globalization and Culture)

As a means of approaching the complex relationship between global food systems and culture, this course will explore food systems as depicted and discussed in literature. The interdisciplinary focus for this course will include investigating works of fiction and non-fiction, and will include sci-fi, historical agricultural literature, and Indigenous literature. Documentaries on contemporary food systems will be considered, as will ecocritical, feminist, and Indigenous theories and perspectives. Concepts from the rewilding movement, regenerative agriculture, to Indigenous food sovereignty movements, among others, will also be discussed.

Possible readings could include novels such as Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Erdrich’s The Birchbark House, and Ozeki’s All Over Creation.

ENGL 330: Topics in Speculative Narrative

Professor Bryn Skibo

Yahoos in Gulliver's Travels

This seminar analyzes the use of speculative fiction to question the constructed norms and assumed natures of “humanity,” “animality,” and species boundaries and binaries. Beginning with Part IV of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), we will discuss the commodification and (ab)use of the animalized human in the following speculative fiction texts: Martin Rowson’s graphic novel adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels (2012), Don LePan’s novel Animals (2009), Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go (2005), Mark Romanek’s film adaptation of Never Let Me Go (2010), as well as student-selected short texts (films or short stories). Some of the central themes of the seminar will be those topics which are believed to separate humans from other animal species, such as language, thought, rationality, tool use, creativity, and aesthetic production (artistry); meanwhile, our theoretical considerations will include classical philosophy (Aristotle), post-structuralism (Derrida), post-humanism (Haraway), gender (Adams), and race (Spiegel and Harper). Our analyses of these narratives will investigate how these themes and theories are employed in the selected texts to construct or deconstruct our understandings of fundamental categories of life, and what we think these (de)constructions suggest about the shared future of humans and nonhumans.

Image: Louis John Rhead (1857-1926) – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online collection: entry 387286

ENGL 332: Topics in Indigenous Literatures

Professor Amelia Horsburgh

In our course the Trickster is not the only one having a giggle, as we study Indigenous literatures written in Canada and how these authors make use of humour to subvert and challenge colonial narratives and oppressive structures. Our topic will spotlight humouristic qualities and the tropes used to parody, mock, and laugh at authority. Moreover, these texts work to build reconciliation, justice, and strength both within Indigenous communities and with settler Canadians. Select authors may include Eden Robinson (Haisla and Heiltsuk), Tomson Highway (Cree), Thomas King (Cherokee, Greek and German ancestry), Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibwe and white ancestry), Lee Maracle (Stó:lō), Tenille Campbell (Dene and Métis), and Tanya Tagaq (Inuk).

ENGL 350: Topics in 19th-Century Literature

Professor Sandra Hagan

A study of 19th-century literature within the broader social, political, philosophical, and cultural contexts of the age. Topics may include Romanticism, American Renaissance, medievalism, the gothic and neo-gothic, fin de siècle, scientific romance, and others. The focus may be on a single author or genre.

ENGL 396: Literature and Film

Instructor Kaia Scott

A study of the interrelationships between literature and film. Focus may be on a particular author, director, genre, theme, or region.

ENGL 480: Research Methods

Professor Theo Finigan

An opportunity to enhance research skills, explore a variety of literary critical approaches and their theoretical foundations, and consider the impact of digital technologies on our discipline. May include proposal writing, rhetorical issues, varieties of collaboration, information literacy, and scholarly communication.

Generic course descriptions for all English courses are in the VIU Program and Course Calendar.