Scheda programma d'esame
Anno accademico2021/22
PeriodoPrimo semestre

Obiettivi di apprendimento
Learning outcomes

Letteratura inglese III

Doing things with texts: literary interpretation and critical writing


                                                    Academic Year 2021/2022




Course lecturer: Fausto Ciompi

Course language: English

Taught: Semester 1

Credits: 9

Exam Code: 994LL

Available to IHP (International Programme in Humanities) students



Click on UK flag for course description



This course introduces to concepts and practices that underpin the interpretation of literary texts. The student who completes the course will have a general knowledge of critical methodologies and literary theories (e.g. classical and post-classical narratology, hermeneutics, stylistics, bio-politics, gender and affect studies) and a specific knowledge of how canonical and extra-canonical literary texts can be interpreted according to normative and non-normative poetics. The course aims at improving the student’s understanding of literature and literary theory and at fostering the abilities needed to analyze literary texts and write a University thesis on English literature.

Assessment criteria of knowledge

An in-course written assignment will assess the students’ interpretive skills and their knowledge of the topics discussed during lessons and seminars.

The final examination will assess the ability to produce coherent and insightful readings of literary texts and the skills needed to discuss theoretical, critical and literary topics.


Students will develop their capacity to

  • elaborate independent thought and judgement;
  • improve self-direction and independent learning;
  • critically examine diverse forms of discourse, including literature, drama, literary theory and criticism, translation both linguistic and between cultures;
  • compare and evaluate different interpretive perspectives;
  • use their oral communication effectively;
  • write coherent and well-structured papers;
  • write historically and theoretically informed analyses of literary texts.
Assessment criteria of skills

The main assessment criteria will be clarity, coherence and effectiveness of argumentation.


Students will practise their argumentative and interpretive skills in class activities and assignments. Independent study will help them develop the ability to retrieve relevant information from different sources and elaborate their own ideas when they try their hands at the analysis of literary texts. They will improve their writing skills by completing an in-course paper and will showcase the skills acquired during the course in a final independently-researched essay. During seminars and the oral exam, they will exercise critical reasoning and apply the core skills that are needed to effectively read and contextualize literary texts.

Assessment criteria of behaviors

Positive behaviors include active cooperation in group work, the ability to apply previous feedback, and the creative elaboration of ideas and projects.  


A general knowledge of English literature and an adequate ability to read and discuss literary and critical texts in English.

Teaching methods

Lecture. Seminar. Pair and group work. Written assignment. “Blended" teaching methods: face-to-face and asynchronous remote teaching. The course language is English.


Fictional and non-fictional texts from the 17th century to present day, with a focus on the contemporary scene. Keynotes in contemporary cultural and literary theory.


The Creative Field

  • Fictional and Non-fictional Prose

Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal

Henry James, The Figure in the Carpet

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad, “The Secret Sharer”, from ’Twixt Land and Sea

James Joyce, “Eveline”

Zadie Smith, “Kelso Deconstructed”, “Escape from New York”, from Grand Union


  • Poetry

 Ben Jonson, On My First Son

John Donne, The Ecstasy

Jonathan Swift, A Description of the Morning

S.T. Coleridge, Christabel

Philip Larkin, Going, Continuing to Live, Mr Bleaney, The Explosion

Ted Hughes, Crow Tyrannosaurus, Hill-stone was content

Sylvia Plath, Daddy

Seamus Heaney, Digging, The Grauballe Man

Carol Ann Duffy, The Virgin Punishing the Infant


  • Drama

Samuel Beckett, Endgame

Mark Ravenhill, Shopping and Fucking


Texts must be read in the original language. No specific edition is recommended.  All texts will be available from Biblioteca LM2, Via S. Maria 57. Poems are available on the Moodle course webpage (, Poetry Foundation and similar websites.



The Interdiscursive Cloud


The following is non-compulsory study material from which students can gain inspiration for presentation or written work:

  • Influence and dissemination:

From S.T. Coleridge’s Christabel to E.A. Poe’s The Sleeper, J.S. LeFanu’s Carmilla and Nightwish’s Beauty of the Beast. [Optional]

The Virgin Punishing/Spanking the Child: From Max Ernst to Carol Ann Duffy. [Optional]


  • Adaptation:

From J. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to F.F. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now: Kurtz’s monologue on “the horror”, [Optional]


  • Intersemiotic translation, from dramatic text to performance/Film:

Conor McPherson, Endgame [Optional]



The Theoretical Debate


Students are required to familiarize with some key notions on literary and cultural theory that are expounded in these texts (see course webpage for page references):


Mikhail Bakhtin, [On Heteroglossia], from Discourse in the Novel

Roland Barthes, [On Studium and Punctum], from Camera Lucida

Harold Bloom, [On Death and the Canon], from The Western Canon

Rosi Braidotti, [On Posthuman and Specific Theory], from The Posthuman

Laurence Buell, [On Rhetoric and Greenspeak], from The Future of Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination,

Judith Butler, [On Gender Identity as Expression and Performance], from Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Jacques Derrida, [On Text and Supplement], from Of Grammatology

Monika Fludernik, [On Experientiality] from Towards a Natural Narratology

Michel Foucault, [On Statement and Discourse] from The Archaeology of Knowledge

Hans-Georg Gadamer, [On Understanding as Historically Effected Event], from Truth and Method

Donna Haraway, [On Situatedness] from “The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”

Patrick Colm Hogan, [On Affect Studies and Literary Criticism (Ben Jonson’s On My First Son)], from Oxford Research Encyclopedia

Jeffrey T. Nealon, [On Postmodernism], from “Postmodernism”

Peter Sloterdjik, [On the Anthropocene], from What Happened in the 20th Century?

Peter Stockwell, [On Figure and Ground: Foregrounding, attractors, defamiliarization, the dominant (Ted Hughes’ Hill-Stone Was Content)], from Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction

Raymond Williams, [On Culture], from Keywords



The Critical Space


Stanley Cavell, "Ending the Waiting Game: A Reading of Beckett's Endgame", in Must we Mean What We Say?, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 115–162.

Fausto Ciompi, Mondo e dizione. La poesia in Gran Bretagna e Irlanda dal 1945 a oggi, Pisa, ETS, 2007, pp. 128-140, 313-332, 431-440.*

Fausto Ciompi, “S.T. Coleridge: eros demoniaco e processo iracondo. Per l’interpretazione tipologica di Christabel”, in Ticontre. Teoria Testo Traduzione, XII, 2019, pp. 197-227.*

Fausto Ciompi, “Joyce, Eveline, le madri: nuovi sondaggi verbali e infraverbali”, in L’amorosa inchiesta. Studi di letteratura per Sergio Zatti, a cura di Stefano Brugnolo, Ida Campeggiani e Luca Danti, Firenze, Franco Cesati editore, 2020, pp. 607-624.*

Thomas Horan, "Myth and Narrative in Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking”, in Modern Drama, 5, 22, 2011, pp. 251-266.

Wolfgang Iser, “Henry James, The Figure in the Carpet: In Place of an Introduction”, in The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Brian McHale, “Archaeologies of Knowledge: Hill’s Middens, Heaney’s Bogs, Schwerner’s Tablets”, in New Literary History, 30, 1, 1999, pp. 239-262.

Leo Spitzer, "Three Poems on Ecstasy", in A Method of Interpreting Literature, Northampton, Mass.: Smith College, 1949, pp. 5-21.

Tzvetan Todorov, “Heart of Darkness”, in Genres of Discourse, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 103-112.

Cedric Watts, “The Mirror-Tale: An Ethico-Structural Analysis of Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’”, in Critical Quarterly, 19, 1977, pp. 25-37.


*IHP and visiting students who do not meet the language requirements for reading these essays should read:

Hans Osterwalder, “Metonymic Ways of Sympathizing with the Underdog: Philip Larkin's ‘Mr Bleaney’ and Anthony Thwaite's ‘Mr Cooper'”, in English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature, 65, 5, 1984, pp. 426-433.

Jahan Ramazani, "‘Daddy, I Have Had to Kill You’: Plath, Rage, and the Modern Elegy”, in PMLA, 108, 5, 1993, pp. 1142-1156.

Robert Scholes, “Semiotic Approaches to a Fictional Text: Joyce's ‘Eveline’", in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 1-2, Fall, 1978-Winter, 1979, pp. 65-80.

William Andrew Ulmer, “Christabel and the Origin of Evil”, in Studies in Philology, 104, 3, 2007, pp. 376-407.


The Handy Corner


In accordance with their research interests, students will read one of the following essays in which essential aspects of fictional prose, drama and poetry are discussed:

David Herman, “Getting Started: A Thumbnail Sketch of the Approach”, in Basic Elements of Narrative, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, pp. 1-22 (especially 17-22).

John Lennard, “Form”, from The Poetry Handbook, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 33-80.

Brian Richardson, “Drama and Narrative”, in The Cambridge Companion to Narrative, ed. David Herman, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 142-155.


The Reference Shelf


Students are required to revise/familiarize with the basic definitions of some literary and rhetorical terms contained in the following texts (a list of relevant entries is available on the course webpage):

David Herman, Manfred Jahn, Marie-Laure Ryan (eds), Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, New York, Routledge, 2005.

Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1991.

            This text may be complemented with/replaced by Bice Mortara Garavelli, Manuale di retorica, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1988 and following editions.

Learning resources

Recordings of the literary texts discussed in the course can be accessed on such websites as Poetry Foundation and YouTube.

Non-attending students info

Non-attending students are required to read two chapters of their choice from The Cambridge Companion to Narrative, ed. David Herman, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007, “PART IV. Further Contexts for Narrative Study”, pp. 189-273.

They must submit the required two written assignments at least 15 days before the examination date or at the latest 10 days afterwards  (see below, under “Assessment methods”, for paper length and description). The course lecturer should be contacted for details.

Assessment methods
  • In-course assignment

Over the course of the term, students will submit a 750-word paper, written in either English or Italian, consisting in the close reading of a literary text included in the reading list and previously analyzed during class. The paper is due in two weeks from assignment date;

  • Final exam, divided into three parts:

1)  a 2500-word independently-researched essay, written in either English or Italian, on a self-selected text or a topic chosen among those taught in class. An approach taking into consideration two or more texts is also possible. The assignment is due in at least 15 days before the oral examination date or at the latest 10 days afterwards.

In order to select critical material to be used in their research, students who write the final essay should be aware of two available sources: onesearch ( and MLA bibliography.

All written assignments must be submitted to the course lecturer ( in PDF files;

2) the oral presentation in English of a topic concerning literary theory or the analysis and commentary of one or more literary texts chosen by the student among those included in the reading list (the selected topic must be different from those covered in the written assignments);

3) a brief discussion, either in English or in Italian according to the student’s choice, of texts and issues analyzed during class.

The intermediate and final assessments must be completed with a score of 18 or better. The score in the in-course assessment will count towards the final mark. The overall mark is determined by combining scores for the written assessments (50 percent of the final mark) and those for the oral exam (50 percent of the final mark). The in-course assessment is a moderate-stakes test. The final written assessment is a high-stakes test.

Resits will be assessed by the same methodology.

Students who fail the in-course written assessment are allowed one additional attempt during term-time. Alternatively, they can sit the oral exam at the end of the course and take the 750-word written assessment in a different exam session. Students who have successfully completed the written assignments and fail the oral exam do no not have to take the written tests again.


Taught: Semester 1.

Course start date: 20 September

Venues: Monday, 12-13.30: CURINI D1; Tuesday, 16-17.30: CURINI A4; Thursday, 12-13.30: CURINI D1.   

Course language: English.

Examination Board: Fausto Ciompi, Biancamaria Rizzardi, Simona Beccone, Laura Giovannelli (substitute), Giovanni Bassi (substitute).

Office hours: Thursdays, 10.15-11.45, Palazzo Scala, Via S. Maria 67. For face-to-face or online meetings, email

Lecturer name and email address: Fausto Ciompi,


A recording of the lectures will be available on the course teams page.

Ultimo aggiornamento 15/09/2021 16:26