Spring 2023 - ENGL 414W D100

Seminar in Literature and History (4)


Class Number: 4963

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 12:30 PM – 2:20 PM
    WMC 2532, Burnaby

    Th 12:30 PM – 2:20 PM
    WMC 2532, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units or two 300-division English courses.



Advanced seminar on selected literary works as they intersect with and are shaped by their historical, social, and cultural environments. May be organized by theme, critical approach, historical period, or individual author. This course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught. Writing.


Witchcraft and Belief among the Victorians

Why in June 1692 did people living in Salem, Massachusetts start hanging their neighbors, thinking them witches? Well, for one thing, they sincerely believed in witchcraft. In this they were not alone. Just the opposite. Most early modern North Americans and Europeans believed in the reality of witchcraft. Most nineteenth-century Victorians, on the other hand, did not. Yet they obsessed over what British social critic Harriet Martineau called the “Salem story.” And it wasn’t just Salem that fascinated American and British writers; it was witchcraft and supernatural belief generally. And it wasn’t just historical. It was clear to anyone reading Nathaniel Hawthorne that this angry great-great-grandson of a Salem judge wasn’t writing only about the past. He was writing about his own time. It was clear, too, that when Charlotte Brontë repeatedly deployed iterations of the word “witch” in Jane Eyre she wasn’t writing only about her own time but about the past.

What did the history of witchcraft tell the nineteenth century about itself? What does Victorian literature tell us about belief generally? In this class we’ll explore these topics from a ‘postsecular’ perspective, that is, from a perspective that takes seriously faith and the history of faith in the supernatural, and by the ‘supernatural’ I mean not just witches but also God and religion. We’ll also ask what witchcraft literature tells us about the nineteenth century itself. After all, via its stories about witchcraft, historical and otherwise, Victorian Anglo-America grappled with its own supernatural fixations, not to mention its own crimes against humanity, crimes that continue to haunt us today.

Our tentative reading list includes work by Joana Baillie, Charlotte Brontë, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Elizabeth Gaskell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. As well we’ll likely read theoretical/critical work by Jenny Franchot, Jürgen Habermas, William James, Sarah Rivett, and Charles Taylor. A heads up that we’ll also be doing some reading in trauma theory, namely work by Jean Améry and Thomas Brudholm.

Of course, this being a 400-level seminar, we’ll also spend a lot of time talking about our writing. You should be ready to share both your writing and your thoughts on it—everything from paragraphing to argumentation, terror to joy.


  1. comprehend the mechanics of language and especially figurative language;
  2. recognize complex relationships between literary and non-literary texts and their historical, philosophical, religious, and cultural contexts;
  3. attain knowledge of the history of nineteenth-century Anglo-American literature and current methods and theories for understanding it;
  4. refine directed and independent research skills; and
  5. fine-tune the ability to design and execute cogent written and oral arguments advancing informed claims about language and literary cultures, their expression, and their contexts.


  • Seminar preparation and participation 10%
  • Formal writing exercises (3 of 300-500 words each) 45%
  • Informal writing (blog; about 200 words/week)) 5%
  • Seminar paper mini draft (about 800-1000 words) 10%
  • Seminar paper final draft (about 2500-3000 words) 30%



Most texts will be available as PDFs on our Canvas site, but you do need to purchase the Brontë and Hawthorne. Please try to get the editions listed below, since they’re the ones we’ll be close-reading in class. Also, please get the books on your own; I have not ordered them through the SFU bookstore. If you’re not in a rush, consider ordering through one of the local independent bookstores. My faves are Iron Dog Books (irondogbooks.com) and Massy Books (www.massybooks.com).


Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2010)
ISBN: 9780143106159

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (Modern Library, 2001)
ISBN: 9780375756870


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

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 website 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