ENG499Y1Y - L0101

Belles Lettres


Monday 2 pm - 4 pm


M. Cobb

Brief Description of Course

The category of Belles-Lettres is vague and changing. Once it described literature in general. Now it often only includes fine essay writing, memoir, or any other forms of writing that are not as easily classifiable as poetry, prose, or drama but are still elegant, full of literary qualities. This advanced research seminar, however, will fixate less on what counts as Belles-Lettres or not (it is not a historical accounting of the category) and more on the beauty, style, fineness, elegance, or anything else that distinguishes writing as "belles." The seminar will be interested in how beautiful writing impacts the presentation of ideas, stories, feelings, histories, genders, sexualities, racial and class differences, among many other topics. It will make an argument for how "the beautiful" is essential, and how research projects in literature departments can benefit from adopting some of the literariness, the "belles-ness," of the objects those departments study.

Required Reading(s)

Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The Year of Magical Thinking; Susan Sontag, Under the Sign of Saturn; Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (Lydia Davis' translation); Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey; Djuna Barnes, Nightwood; James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time; Rolland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse; Gwendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems; Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red and Decreation; Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds; Hilton Als, White Girl.

First Three Authors/Texts

  • Didion
  • Sontag
  • Proust

Method of Evaluation

  • Participation (20 %)
  • Short essay (25%)
  • Seminar presentation (15%)
  • Final research paper (40%)