Spring 2022 - ENGL 437W D100

Seminar in American Literatures (4)

Class Number: 4837

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM
    AQ 5048, Burnaby

    Th 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM
    AQ 5014, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units or two 300 division English courses.



Advanced seminar in American literature. May be organized by author, genre, period, or critical approach. This course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught. Writing.


and Other Outbursts

When Melville published Moby-Dick in 1851 readers were equal parts spellbound and confused. As one London review put it, “There is much that is incredible and a little that is incomprehensible.” American readers were baffled, too. Having fallen in love with the action-packed, lurid sea tales Herman Melville wrote prior to Moby-Dick, readers wondered aloud whether he’d drowned in philosophy – and wanted to take them down with him. The final novel Melville published in his lifetime, The Confidence-Man (1857), didn’t help that reputation. A dense and satirical romp through American capitalism, colonialism, and naiveite, among other things, this strange (strange!) book was published on – wait for it – April Fool’s Day. Now it’s being read as a pitch-perfect appraisal of a 21st-century America that looks increasingly farcical. As for Melville’s career as a writer of ambitious novels, it turns out he wasn’t done. After his death a granddaughter found a manuscript in a breadbox (seriously). It was Billy Budd, Sailor (1886-91,1924), that resplendent meditation on law, sexuality, and history.

Has all this talk of curious novels scared just about scared you off? Don’t run. I’ll be there to walk you through the tough stuff. And if you’ve never read Melville, you’re in for a treat. This guy could write a sentence. Plus, as you might have noticed just by virtue of being alive, Melville’s work has had quite the cultural afterlife. Film, TV, painting, web art, opera, social media, music: Melville is always everywhere. There’s a reason for that.


Comprehend the mechanics of language, especially figurative language;
recognize complex relationships between texts and their contexts;
attain knowledge of the history of nineteenth-century American literature and current methods and theories for understanding it;
refine directed and independent research skills; and,
fine-tune the ability to design and execute cogent arguments advancing informed claims about language and literary cultures, their expression, and their contexts.


  • Short Papers (3 of 300-400 words each) 45%
  • Research Proposal & Annotated Bibliography 5%
  • Seminar Paper 35%
  • Participation 10%
  • Blog 2.5%
  • CreativeCriticalTheoretical Project 2.5%



Any edition of Moby-Dick is fine, so long as it’s unabridged. The book’s chapters are short, so it’ll be no trouble finding the right passage in class. My recommendation, go to your favorite local bookstore (I love Iron Dog Books and Massy Books) and find the one that feels right to you.

As for The Confidence-Man and Billy Budd, I’ve ordered them through SFU Bookstore, though of course you can order them from your favorite local bookstore, too. Whatever you do, though, don’t try to order Billy Budd from Amazon. They’ll send you the wrong edition. (Trust me: I’m the editor of the book and I know. I’ll explain in class why this happens.) Either buy it at SFU Bookstore, order it through another bookstore, or order it directly from Broadview, which is a Canadian publisher and will get it to you quickly: https://broadviewpress.com/product/billy-budd/#tab-description.

Finally, while I get the convenience of e-books, I implore you to buy print editions of the novels.


Herman Melville, Bill Budd, Sailor: An Inside Narrative, ed. Michael Everton (Broadview Press, 2016)
ISBN: 9781554812387

Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, ed. John Bryant (Penguin Random House, 2003)
ISBN: 9780375758027

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (any unabridged edition)

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2022 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with safety plans in place.  Some courses will still be offered through remote methods, and if so, this will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the spring 2022 term.