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ENG/HPR 265: Violence and the Novel

Professor Naomi Mandel

Course Description

This class focuses on works of fiction that respond to, depict, or participate in violence. We will read novels about murder and prison, illness, fantasies, art, atrocities, broken promises, and the violence of reading and writing novels themselves. Our guiding questions will be: given that the novel is a work of fiction, what is its relationship to violence? What is violence's relationship to truth? How does the novel negotiate – or disintegrate – the relationship between violence and reality? Is there such a thing as a violent novel, and if so, how should we respond to it?

PLEASE NOTE: This course is cross-listed with the Honors program. Non-Honors Program students must have a G.P.A. of 3.2 or higher to enroll in this course

Required Texts

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments
Junichiro Tanizaki, The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi
Patrick Suskind, Perfume
D.M. Thomas, The White Hotel
Hervé Guibert, To the friend who did not save my life


Caché (Michael Haneke, dir).

Course Requirements

3 brief response-papers (10% each): 30%
2 formal papers (25% each): 50%
4 open discussions (5% each):  20%

If you have a documented disability and wish to discuss academic accommodations, please contact me within the first two weeks of class. For further assistance, please contact the staff at:
Disabilities Services for Students (in the Office of Student Life) 330 Memorial Union
 874-2098; Web:


Jan 22 Introduction           

Jan 27 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Jan 29 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Feb 3    Fragments
Feb 5    Fragments

Feb 10  lecture: theories of fiction
Feb 12  lecture: theories of violence

Feb 17 open discussion; response paper #1 due                
Feb 19 writing workshop            

Feb 24  The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi
Feb 26  The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi           

Mar 3  Perfume; formal paper #1 due
Mar 5  Perfume

Mar 10 Perfume
Mar 12 open discussion; response paper #2 due


Mar 24 The White Hotel
Mar 26 The White Hotel

Mar 31 The White Hotel
April 2 The White Hotel
April 7  open discussion; response paper #3 due
April 9  To the friend

April 14 To the friend
April 16 To the friend

April 21 
April 23 

April 28 open discussion; response paper #4 due.

Formal Paper #2 due date TBA

ENG 265 is included within the Fine Arts and Literature core area of URI's General Education program.

The following skills will be addressed in a substantial part of the coursework and in the evaluation of your performance in this class:

•    Examine Human Differences: This course will include assignments which examine the role of difference within and across national boundaries. Appropriate examples of "difference" include but are not limited to race, religion, sexual orientation, language, culture, and gender.
•    Read Complex Texts: This course will require you to "read," evaluate, and interpret primary sources, critical commentaries, or works of art.
•    Write Effectively: This course will include written assignments designed to allow you to practice and improve writing skills and receive regular feedback, by submitting drafts and revisions, or by writing a series of comparable papers, or by writing long assignments in shorter units.

Course expectations and policies

Attendance: Excessive (more than three unexcused) absence will affect your grade. You are responsible for all work due, assigned, or discussed during days you are not present. 

Reading: To succeed in this course, you must keep up with the reading. In some cases, we will be discussing one text while you are writing a paper or preparing a presentation about another text. The only way to do this and remain sane is to stay on schedule.

Conferences: Once or twice during the quarter I may schedule individual conferences. Since time is limited and scheduling conferences is difficult, you must show up at the time you have signed up for. Missing a conference is like missing a class. If after signing up for a conference time you find you will have a problem meeting me at that time, you must either notify me well in advance or trade conference times with a classmate.

Getting in touch with me:

•    I check my email every day, so that is the best way to contact me. If you can’t email me, you can leave a voicemail message at my office: 401/874.4666.
•    If you can’t come to my office hours, we can set up a special appointment. Call or email me (email is best) and we will arrange a time to meet.


The purpose of the paper is to give you an opportunity to develop the kind of close reading skills that academic writing in the discipline of English Literature requires.

The paper should take the form of a close reading of a single brief passage or scene from one of the literary texts or films on the syllabus. Looking carefully at every element in the scene (diction, setting, imagery, sound and point-of-view are a few such basic elements), identify how these elements reflect the some broader themes of the work as a whole.

The response-paper should achieve four goals:

1)    it should sucessfully avoid summary or paraphrase of the scene in question.
2)    it should reflect a close engagement with the text, not only by quoting the text to support the points made about it but by explaining how the text you quote leads you to your conclusion about it.
3)    It should demonstrate a strong grasp of the broader themes of the work as a whole.
4)    Since we will be discussing each of these literary/cinematic texts in the class, your analysis should not repeat the content of this discussion. Rather, the analysis should serve as a contribution to, extension of, an engagement with or challenge to it this discussion.

Your grade on the response-paper will reflect the extent to which you have achieved the four goals of the assignment.

Formal Paper:

The formal paper will take the form of comparing and contrasting two texts. In class, we will develop some criteria to guide you in this work.


I am happy to meet with you on rough drafts, provided that we do so at least one week before the paper is due. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Participation and Open Discussions:

I expect you to be present in class in every sense of the term: awake, aware, and armed with questions, comments and concerns about the readings, your colleagues’ comments and my own.

In addition to class discussion, I've scheduled four "open discussions." These discussions are when you, as a class member, are responsible for ensuring that the class as a collective engage in in-depth discussion and reach some conclusions about the texts. Your grade will be evaluated according to these criteria: preparation (how much you've thought about the texts), quality of contribution (more than "yes," "no," and "me too"; instead, your contribution should take the form of saying something that a lot of people would like to respond to), participation (speaking multiple times) and initiative (suggesting that we turn to a certain page, articulating a question, writing something on the board).

Grade Scale used in this course

A     - 100 to 92.5
A-    - 92.49 to 89.5
B+    - 89.49 to 87.5
B    - 87.49 to 81.5
B-    - 81.49 to 79.5
C+    - 79.49 to 77.5
C    - 77.49 to 71.5
C-    - 71.49 to 69.5
D+    - 69.49 to 67.5
D    - 67.49 to 59.5
F    - 59.49 and below

I am very strict about timely submission of written work. To receive full credit for your written work, keep these dictates in mind:

•    Papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date.
•    Do not email written work to me.
•    No late papers are accepted without a thoroughly documented excuse.



This page last updated:12/25/2008 by: Naomi Mandel

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