Our winter quarter starts a week from Monday. In addition to muhy5 course on Lesbian & Gay lit, I’ll be teaching a graduate seminar on Restoration literature (1660-1688). I’m really looking forward to it — I’ve never taught a graduate class just on this period.

When I started thinking about the class, I immediately wanted to organize it around a chapter from Judith Bennett‘s new book, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. Most of the book is more suited to historians, but the chapter on “Patriarchal Equilibrium” will offer us an interesting way into the literary texts that we’ll be studying. It discusses definitions of patriarchy and talks about a model for analyzing patriarchal structures from a feminist point of view.

After I chose the theme, historicizing patriarchy, I had to start choosing literary texts, of course. I especially want to introduce my students to female poets in the period. I also decided to order Blackwell’s anthology of Restoration drama, which is kind of expensive. Due to the cost, I quickly decided that I would need to assign as much as possible from that text in order to justify the expense. It feels a little weird to let the book order dictate the reading list, but in many ways that happens all the time so it’s nothing really new. Originally I had thought about ordering no textbooks and having the class just read everything online, but I was quickly convinced not to do that by PJ and other colleagues — all of whom thought I was crazy.

I also made another momentous decision: to start with Milton‘s Paradise Lost. I’m hoping that this will set up the patriarchal tradition for us, even if Milton wasn’t exactly a typical patriarch (or at least he wasn’t typical of some Restoration political theory that equated the family patriarch with the national one, the king). In order to make room on the syllabus for other things, I ended up asking my students to read part of the poem (along with the Bennett chapter) before the class started. We’ll therefore be jumping into the poem right away.

We’ll follow Milton with a look at other Restoration poets, almost all of which we’ll read online using the wonderful database Early English Books Online. I had a difficult time squeezing John Dryden into the poetry portion of the syllabus, so I decided to teach his operatic adaptation of Paradise Lost instead. It’s called The State of Innocence and is basically portions of Milton’s epic transposed into heroic couplets. I think it will be a good introduction to the poetic form.

PhilipsThen we’ll read three female poets: Katherine Philips (pictured here), Anne Killigrew, and Ephelia (Lady Mary Villiers). I’ve taught Philips lots of times but haven’t ever taught Killigrew or Ephelia. In working on an article recently, I reread parts of Harriette Andreadis’s book Sappho in Early Modern England: Female Same-Sex Literary Erotics, 1550-1714, which is a great book. I especially like its argument that early modern women practiced what she called a process of “unnaming” their relations with other women. This is a much more sophisticated analytical concept than simply saying that these women were in the closet. I hope some of my students get turned on to Harriette’s work through my class. (I know Harriette a little bit — she teaches at Texas A&M. I never had any classes with her while I was there, but we’ve been at a couple of the same conferences and local parties since then. She’s also always been willing to offer a little reading advice for my gay lit class when I’ve asked for it.)

Killigrew and Ephelia should also be interesting reads. I’ve selected a range of poems from each poet to assign my students, but I’m really hoping that I can kind of turn them loose and let them read around in their poetry and find what they like and think is interesting. I want the class to be able to all bring something to the table on the days that we read their work. This is partly due to the fact that I’ve not taught them before, but it’s also part of larger shift in my pedagogy towards giving my students more independence and responsibility. We’ll see how it goes.

RochesterAfter these poets, we’ll spend a day on the poetry of John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, one of my favorite poets from the period. In fact, as I’ve written before, his work is one of the things that interested me in this period in the first place. Reading him was also kind of crucial to my coming out process. He usually teaches well, so I’ll be interested to see what this group of students thinks of him. Sometimes they’re scandalized and sometimes they revel in his audacity. But he’s always fun.

We’ll also read a little bit of Aphra’s Behn‘s poetry with Rochester. In fact, I’m having them read the 1680 edition of the “E of R’s” poetry, a collection of several poets’ work which is all attributed to Rochester as a way of selling books when he died. I think reading the poems in this form will raise some interesting questions for my students to ponder and discuss. Throughout the term, I want to emphasize the issue of literary production more than I usually do. This will certainly feed into that conversation.

The second half of the term will focus primarily on drama. We’ll start with William Wycherley‘s The Country Wife, Sir George Etherege‘s The Man of Mode, and Behn’s The Rover to cover Restoration comedy. These are all plays that I’m quite familiar with and they too always teach well. We’ll then move on to tragedy. First we’ll read Dryden’s All for Love, a retelling of the Antony and Cleopatra story. Then we’ll read Nathaniel Lee‘s Lucius Junius Brutus. I want to use these plays to talk about the exclusion crisis and the politics of Restoration theater. I’ve taught the Dryden play once before, but I’ve not taught the Lee.

We’ll end the class with Behn’s Oroonoko, a text I’ve taught a lot. I had hoped to start the class with selections from Samuel Pepys‘s diary, but I had to cut them in order to make room for everything else. That would have allowed me to begin and end the class with prose works. Instead, we’ll just have Behn, which certainly isn’t a bad way to end the class.

I’m going to add a couple of new writing assignments to this class. First, the students will be writing a poetry explication paper for their midterm assignment. I really want to emphasize close reading of the poems, and this kind of assignment will definitely do that. They’ll also be keeping a commonplace book. I’m a little worried that they’ll think it’s a little too undergraduate, but I’ll try to emphasize the benefits from a seventeenth-century point of view. They’ll also each present a critical work on one of the texts/authors and will, of course, write a final paper. (I assign conference-length papers since we only have 10 weeks.)

In conclusion, what stands out to me right now is just how much new stuff I’m doing in this class. On the one hand, this means a lot of work for me — more reading, more prep, etc. But on the other hand, it could be really exciting and educational — I’m going to learn a lot in this class whether my students do or not! I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it as the term progresses. Wish me luck!