Reading Journals

Over the years I’ve tried a number of different writing assignments in my undergrad and grad classes: blog posts, short response essays, in-class writing, write-ups of annotated bibliographies or special collection visits, as well as final research essays.

For this class, I’m trying out the reading journal, because I am convinced, like this instructor, “that brief but regular sessions of thought will allow students to become more invested in their own, independent thinking; and it will help them to achieve richer insights.” And because having students spend some of this time reading and reflecting on their reading might help them develop better insights, better habits of sustained thought, and a more integrated understanding of how this material might operate in the present moment.

Better yet, this practice falls in line with the course’s sustained focus on the processes of reading and writing that are documented and reflected in this era’s fiction as well as Austen’s own history, and it helps us become more aware of our own interlinked processes of reading and writing as we make our way through this material.

A few general principles:

  1. For in-class and out-of-class writing, use either a single notebook, or a single, scrollable document kept apart from your regular note-taking.  This will become the source for the semester’s sharing, posting, excerpting, etc., and will ultimately go into the end of semester portfolio as a single collection.
  2. Individual entries should be dated and have some kind of header (for the purpose of recovering stuff later), and can take on any aspect of the course’s reading or assignments that catch your interest. You may also talk about your history of reading, or your physical circumstances, if you’re interested in seeing how these affect your current reading.
  3. Quotation, common-placing, or other forms of selection of texts are fine as entries, though you should always ask why you’ve chosen the passages you have. Better syntheses, reflections, connections across your reading are the desired result for this kind of work.
  4. Roughly speaking, you should be writing at least 1-2 pp. a week, divided up however you see fit.
  5. I’ll be asking you to share some insights, questions, or examples with one another every week.

I’ll post some examples on the blog of possible approaches to entries, which you can take up and imitate or develop your own.  Let me know if any of this is unclear to you.

See you Thursday,



Assignment for 8/29: Davys Reading etc

1. Hi folks, here’s the reading assignment for next week, with the same link that I provided in the email, Mary Davys’s Reform’d Coquet:

2. To give you an idea of the theoretical agenda of the class, take a look at Suzanne Conklin Akbari’s “Introduction” to this open access volume, which we’ll be using and referring to throughout the semester. For now, I’d urge you to poke around the Akbari/Heller volume to see if anything interests.

3. I’ll post some more explicit guidelines for the reading journals tomorrow, but just try to put your in-class/outside of class journal entries into a single, dated, scrollable document or notebook. Individual entries should have a date and heading.

The Akbari/Heller volume has a variety of examples where the writers describe their own process of reading, the conditions that influenced their process, and how it affected their understandings of what they read. The examples are there to encourage you to find your own way of describing your process.

4. Finally, I’m including my own notes from the board from Thursday, to suggest a few points.


Thursday’s examples showed some of the different speeds and intensities of our modes of uptake, but they also revealed how our intellectual formation helps us cultivate new forms of reading along with new things to read. There is “early reading” and “school reading” and “fun reading” and “theory reading,” all of which seem distinct though not exactly separable from one another.

5. If you’d like to use a prompt for the reading journal, you could consider the relation between Haywood and Davys’s fiction and stage comedies (both were playwrights as well as fiction writers).  You could also consider why reading, and indeed any exercise of the female imagination, is treated as risky, even in imaginative fictions written by women.

Watch for more posts as we proceed, follow as well as subscribe to the blog, and let me know if you run into any problems.



Welcome to 8354: Jane Austen and the Paths of Literary History

English 8354: Jane Austen and the paths of literary history

Course Overview:

I have been thinking a lot about literary history lately, and I’ve decided to approach this course about Jane Austen through the prism of reading and writing.  How did she read? How did her reading affect her writing? How was she read? And how did her readers use her for their own writing?  What kinds of evidence might we use to pursue such inquiries?

These are partly historical questions, but they also inevitably involve the experiences of many readers and writers, past and present, confronting, incorporating, and using these books in a multitude of ways. We will therefore examine how some mid-18th century sentimental novelists contributing to a range of gendered novelistic traditions. These include the psychological realism of the literary novel, but also novelistic genres like the anti-romance, the gothic, or the radical novel, as well as contemporary pop culture genres like the rom com or the zombie novel.

Genre becomes a cue for readers as well as writers as they try to make sense of the world or fill up the blank page. The writers who lead us towards and away from Austen help us understand her, her preferred genres, and her followers’ creative responses that much better.

These contemporary legacies of Austen and the earlier period’s genres should help answer the other question of this course, “How can we teach Austen’s novels to contemporary readers and students?”  This question centers on how the literary-historical Austen, the complex historical figure who helped consolidate a novelistic tradition, can be taught to a radically different, and far more diverse, student population holding vastly different assumptions about themselves and their reading than her initial audiences. For this reason, I will also be asking students to reflect, research, and write a bit about their own reading practices, and how these might illuminate these legacies of Austen in contemporary culture and genres. The final research assignment will be a comparison between one of the assigned texts and an historical or contemporary text demonstrating some generic affiliation with its counterpart.

Primary Texts:

Segment I (wks 1-6):

Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (1725) PDF (distributed over email and course-blog)

Mary Davys, Coquet (1724) PDF (distributed over course blog)

Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1747-8) (Penguin, unabridged: ISBN 9780140432152)

Segment II (wks 7-9):

Frances Burney, Evelina (1778) (Broadview: 155111237X)

Mary Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs of Women, or Maria (1798) (Broadview; 1554810221)

Anon., The Woman of Colour (1808) (Broadview: 1551111764)

Segment III (wks 10-14):

Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works(1787-93) (Broadview: 1554810582)

Northanger Abbey (1803/1818) (Broadview: 1551114798)

Mansfield Park (1814) (Broadview: 1551110989)

Persuasion (1817) (Broadview: 1551111314)

Theoretical Readings: TBA, distributed via PDFs on course blog

[To print out the MS Word version of this document, please click on the link below]

8354 Fall 19 course description