Varieties of Love and Literary Form

Professor Joseph Boone, Department of English

Many of the major works of literature in western culture have been dominated by expressions of earthly love and romantic union as the highest goal of human existence. After all, when Tina Turner sings, “What’s love got to do with it?”, we know she’s either being blind or ironic: love’s got everything to do with “it” in the world-view that’s been instilled in us since the cradle.

The goal of this course, then, will be to investigate how these concepts of romantic and erotic love have evolved and changed in the West from Plato to the present day. It undertakes this task by focusing on love’s representation in a variety of narrative forms of literature across a spectrum of epochs, arguing that such texts have not only served to reflect the social mores of their times but also helped to create, at significant junctures in our cultural history, new ideals of union and new literary idioms to express those new, sometimes daringly radical, expressions of love. Indeed, one of the ironies of the love tradition in literature is the degree to which this primary goal of the “civilized” life—to feel and seek out true love—is simultaneously viewed as the greatest threat to social harmony and cohesion.

The course begins by looking at some of the competing ideals of love fostered in the classical period, including the famous disquisition on love staged in Plato’s Symposium, Euripides’ tragedies The Bacchae and Medea, and Longus’s pastoral romance Daphnis and Chloe. Next we investigate the uniquely English ideal of love-in-marriage reflected in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; then we turn our attention to how and why the novel – a relatively “new” literary genre – becomes the modern era’s privileged “home” of the love plotby reading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. We’ll then turn to the twentieth-century and the poetic, political, sexual, and racial reverberations of eros in Tom Stoppard’s Invention of Love, Stephen Frears’ film Sammy and Rose Get Laid and end with a novel by a USC English professor of creative writing, Dana Johnson’s Elsewhere.


Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre.
Euripides. Medea.
Dana Johnson. Elsewhere, California.
Hanif Kureishi, “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.”
Longus. Daphnis and Chloe.
Plato. The Symposium.
William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Tom Stoppard. The Invention of Love.

Recognizing Realizations

Professor Emily Anderson, Department of English

How do we know something? How do we know that we know it? And how does literature itself analyze and enable this process of discovery? This course will address these questions by focusing on two concepts in literature throughout history: recognition and realization. Our reading will focus on “realization” as moments of learning, as the quest for and achievement of knowledge. But we will also consider how “realization” often entails a process of “recognition” that exposes the quest for knowledge as having been somehow, unconsciously repeated: that which we know now, we have also known before. Finally, we will ask what it means that process of realization in text is often depicted quite literally. From Adam’s creation in Paradise to Frankenstein’s monster, discoveries in literature are continuously embodied, brought to life—made real.

Readings will range from the epic and drama of the classical world, (The Odyssey, Oedipus), to the renaissance (Paradise Lost, Hamlet), to modern echoes of ancient forms (Frankenstein, Never Let Me Go). As we move through time and genres, we will consider how the process of realization is presented differently from moment to moment, and from form to form. We will also, in the process, consider how realization and recognition are linked to the humanistic search for origins, as both processes encourage characters and readers to reflect on that which came before.


Aristotle. Poetics.
Homer. Odyssey.
Kazuo Ishiguro. Never Let Me Go.
John Milton. Paradise Lost.
Shakespeare. Hamlet.
Mary Shelley. Frankenstein.
Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays.

The Roots of Race

Professor Daniel Richter, Department of Classics

In the decades leading up the American Civil War, the voices of the abolitionist movement grew so loud that southern intellectuals, planters, politicians, and others responded with a series of arguments intended to justify the practice and the nature of the “peculiar institution” of African slavery. These arguments—from nature, from biblical and secular history, from law, from economics—continue to shape the ways in which we think about race, gender, and human diversity in the early twenty-first century. In the nineteenth century, those who fought over the issue of human property used the past to justify their present practices in very self-conscious ways. By contrast, in the early 21st century, we seem to be far less aware of the ways in which our racial politics are shaped by our own peculiar past. This course is an attempt to unearth the deep past of American racial discourse from the soil of history. The ante-bellum South will provide our center of gravity—a vantage-point from which we will look back to antiquity and forward to the present.


Homer. Odyssey.
Euripides. Trojan Women.
Herodotus. Histories.
Shakespeare. Merchant of Venice.
Shakespeare. Othello.
Frederick Douglass. Autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave / My Bondage and My Freedom / Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Norton Critical edition).
Harriet Jacobs. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Ishmael Reed. Mumbo Jumbo.