Course Descriptions

ENG 4825

The Essay

Christine Chaney

TuTh 3:00–5:00 p.m.

"How to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you other words, how to LIVE?"

Blogs, links, tweets, pages, postings ... today's world is filled with short prose writings of many kinds, many of which ask these very same fundamentally human questions -- but NOT many of which might be thought of today as "essays" (English course assignment might come to mind first...).

But did you know that, in fact, this literary inheritance of insights and intimacy in short prose form can be traced to the innovation of one single man? -- Michel de Montaigne in Renaissance France. Montaigne called this new writing he invented "essay" because it comes from from the French verb essayer which means "to try or attempt or test." So, for Montaigne, to "try out" a new idea, to "give it a whirl," as one writer puts it, is to write "an essay"

And write them he did!

Montaigne is responsible for literally hundreds of fascinating, witty, and insightful "tests" on what it means to be human in all its passions and contradictions. In this course, then, we will read many of Montaigne's essays as our guiding framework to trace out the history and development of this fascinating genre and investigate its aspects at close hand. We will discover the innovations that shaped the essay's development in the centuries that followed Montaigne and continue reading through the great essayists who followed in his footsteps -- from Samuel Johnson to William Hazlitt to Virginia Woolf -- and up to its vital importance for the conversations of our time.


Sarah Bakewell, How To Live, Or, A Life of Montaigne In One Question and 

                         Twenty Attempts At An Answer

Michel de Montaigne, The Collected Essays

Philip Lopate, ed.,  The Art of the Personal Essay

Writing on the window of an English classroom

How to Read a Poem

English Professor Susan Van Zanten gives you a quick guide on how to get the most out of reading poetry.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Jane Austen
Pride & Prejudice