ENGL479Q - Selected Topics in English and American Literature after 1800; The Idea of Mystery in Literature
0101 - Maud Casey

If stories are a way of making sense of the world, they are also an opportunity to stand in the presence of things that don’t make sense, that cannot be fully understood. Flannery O’Connor wrote about mystery as “that extra ingredient,” the thing that makes a story a story, which is created when “a writer puts us in the middle of some human action as it is outlined and illuminated by mystery.” Encountering the ineffable as a reader can lead to deeper kinds of knowledge, of the variety Chekhov famously alluded to when he described the writer's obligation as one of posing questions rather than resolving them. If mystery, the genre, is about finding the answers, mystery, that elusive yet essential element of fiction, is about finding the questions. Our investigation into mystery, the literary quality, will include close readings (What are the variety of ways writers create mystery in fiction?) and broader questions about the value of fiction and, relatedly, the value of the imagination (What do we go to fiction for?  What do we want it to do?). Readings may include work by Isaac Babel, Jane Bowles, Barbara Comyns, Shirley Jackson, Henry James, Han Kang, Valerie Luiselli, Wright Morris and others; as well as supplementary critical essays by writers. Weekly writing assignments and a final project. 


Two English courses in literature or permission of ARHU-English Department. Repeatable to 9 credits if content differs.