Fiona Wilson

MA, University of Glasgow. MA, PhD, New York University. Scholar and poet. Special interests in 18th- to 21st-century British and Irish literature, ecocriticism, poetry and poetics, and studies in Scottish culture. Recipient of fellowships and awards from the Institute of the Advanced Study of the Humanities, University of Edinburgh (2012), Keats-Shelley Association of America (2009), Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers (2008), the Center for Book Arts, New York (2007), and the Scottish Poetry Library (2006). Former chair of the Scottish Literature Discussion Group of the Modern Language Association. Author of essays published in Teaching Robert Louis Stevenson (MLA, 2013), Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg (Edinburgh University Press, 2012), Romanticism’s Debatable Lands (Palgrave, 2007), Keats-Shelley Journal (2005), and elsewhere. Poetry published in Literary Imagination, Edinburgh Review, From Glasgow to Saturn, Poetry Review, Literary Review. SLC, 2008–

Course Information

Previous courses

British Literature Since 1945

Spring

British literature is often described in terms of tradition and continuity. This course departs from a very different perspective to explore a literature energized by conflict, change, and remarkable variety. Reading across genres, we examine how the alleged consensus of the immediate postwar period gave way to challenging questions about the nature of Britishness itself. We consider the social and cultural effects of decolonization and of Cold War politics. We discuss literary responses to the women’s movement, the troubles in Northern Ireland, Thatcherism, the European Union, the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and the emergence of the modern multicultural United Kingdom. Why were Sam Selvon’s Caribbean Londoners so lonely—and what happened to their descendants? What was Belfast confetti? What did it take to be a “top girl” in the 1980s? When did North Britain become devolved Scotland? These and other questions direct our conversation. Possible authors: Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Muriel Spark, Jean Rhys, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Caryl Churchill, Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, and others. This is not your mother’s Masterpiece Theatre.

Faculty

Enchanted: The European Fairy Tale and Its Influence

Fall

Yes, it’s the name of a Disney film; but that’s hardly the end of the story. Fairy tales appear in every culture, in all historical periods, and in a kaleidoscope of constantly-evolving variations. In this class, we will focus on the rich traditions of the fairy tale within European culture, beginning with the emergence of the literary tale in Renascence Italy and its subsequent transformation by French writers such as Charles Perrault and Madame d’Aulnoy before turning to the great fairy tale collections of the Romantic period by the German brothers Grimm, Russian Alexander Afanasyev, and others. We will consider the implications of the shift from oral to written culture and of the 19th-century association between folk materials and nationalism. We will explore metamorphoses of the fairy tale in fiction, drama, and poetry, with attention to works by Charlotte Brontë, Christina Rossetti, J. M. Barrie, Angela Carter, Helen Oyeymi, and others. Throughout the semester, we will also engage with the large and fascinating body of commentary on fairy tales from fields as disparate as history, anthropology, psychoanalysis, and literary criticism.

Faculty

Frankenstein Unbound

Spring

Like Walter Benjamin’s image of the angel of history, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein plunges forward into the future while looking back—anxiously? longingly?—toward the past. This course takes Shelley’s 1818 novel as its core text for an investigation into writing as an activity as troubled by mythic origins as it is fired by utopian dreams. We examine what Mary Shelley was reading in the year before she wrote her most famous work, tracing the influence of literary ancestors such as Milton and Rousseau, as well as her scandalous real-life parents: the proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the anarchist William Godwin. We join the party at Lake Geneva, with Percy “Victor” Shelley, Claire Clairmont, “mad, bad” Lord Byron, and Byron’s unfortunate personal doctor John Polidori on the night that Mary Shelley first conceived of her “hideous progeny” (and Dr. Polidori initiated the first vampire story in English). In the final section of the course, we pursue the fabulous afterlife of Frankenstein in works by Herman Melville, Angela Carter, and others. Possible topics of discussion: paradises lost and imagined; Europe post-Napoleon; old gods, new Eves; the Gothic villain; paranoia; confession and autobiography; the ghost in the machine; Darwin, vampires, prosthetic bodies, and the sublime; the past and future of Romanticism; posthumanism...and other monstrosities yet to be imagined.

Faculty

Green Romanticisms

Year

The British Romantic movement, it has been said, produced the first “full-fledged ecological writers in the Western literary tradition.” To make this claim, however, is to provoke a host of volatile questions. What exactly did Romantics mean by “nature”? What were the aesthetic, scientific, and political implications of so-called Green Romanticism? Most provocatively, is modern environmental thought a continuation of Green Romanticism or a necessary reaction against it? This yearlong seminar considers such issues through the prism of late 18th and early 19th-century British literature, with additional forays into contemporary art, philosophy, and science writing, as well as American transcendentalism and modern responses to the Romantic legacy. Possible areas of discussion may include the following: leveling politics, landscape design, Romantic idealism, colonial exploration and exploitation, astronomy and the visionary imagination, “peasant poetry,” vegetarianism, the sex life of plants, breastfeeding, ballooning, deism, sublime longings, organic form, gardens, green cities, and the republic of nature—with works by  J. J. Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Edmund Burke, William Gilpin, John Ruskin, Gilbert White, John Clare, Charlotte Smith, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, Percy and Mary Shelley, John Keats, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, John Ruskin, William Morris, Iain Hamilton Finlay, and Tom Stoppard, among others.

Faculty

Literary London

Fall

In Canto Eleven of Don Juan, Byron’s hapless hero stands on a hill outside London, enthusiastically meditating upon the splendid freedoms of the city before him: “Here laws are all inviolate; none lay / Traps for the traveller; every highway’s clear: / Here—’, he was interrupted by a knife, / With,—‘Damn your eyes! Your money or your life!’”  Here, one might add, comic reversal works though the brilliant compression of real and ideal images of Britain’s capital city. This course reads London as it appears in 19th-century British literature. In novels, poems, essays, and plays, we explore the city as, at once, an origin and object of English language print culture. How did Victorian-era Londoners see their city? How is the density of urban life represented in the written word? Among the topics we will explore are: the city as fantasy, the city as nightmare; consumerism, crowds, caricatures; the development of literary criticism; theatre, opium, the street; dandies and bluestockings, streetwalkers and street-sweepers; anarchists; manners and the law; the black city, the gay city; “flash,” Polari, cant, and Cockney rhyming slang; and, finally, 19th-century London in retrospect. Possible authors: William Blake, Ignatius Sancho, Lord Byron, Mary Robinson, Thomas De Quincey, William Hazlitt, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, and Virginia Woolf. 

Faculty

The Poetry Book: Text and Design

Spring

Putting a book of poetry together is a difficult and complex task. The poet must consider not only the order of the poems but also the internal narrative of the book as a whole: how its constituent parts “speak” to each other; how key themes and patterns are developed and articulated; how to begin the book and, even harder, how to end it. Yet, students often encounter poetry primarily through anthologies, with the result that first affiliations are fragmented and obscured. In this class, we take the opposite tack and explore the book of poetry as an event in itself. We read and discuss books by English-language poets across two centuries—from William Blake’s artisanal, hand-tinted works to Frank O’Hara’s portable “lunch poems.” How have individual writers sought to shape readers’ experiences through the patterning of content? What kinds of creative decisions—from cover to typeface—affect the appearance of a poetry book? What happens when a poet’s work is edited posthumously? Or when a book appears in multiple, evolving versions? What is hypertext poetry, and has it really abolished the poetry book as traditionally understood? 

Faculty