R5B Section 2: Reading and Composition: “Perennial Decay: Literary Decadence in the North”

MWF 12-1 , 234 Dwinelle. Instructor: Ben Bigelow

Units: 4

All Reading & Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the second half or the “B” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

Decadence was a literary mode or style that flourished in Europe around the end of the nineteenth century. Taking a cue from a number of influential histories of the late Roman Empire, decadent writers perceived an important correlation between the Roman Empire on the verge of extinction and aristocratic European culture at the fin de siècle, and fashioned themselves in the mold of the perverse, pleasure-seeking, doomed citizens of the late Empire. This kind of literature fixated on the aristocratic, sensitive, highly educated individual’s pursuit of pleasure in the midst of social and cultural decay. Though the decadent literary fashion gained the most traction in France (Baudelaire, Huysmans, Verlaine, Bourget), influential decadent novels were also written in the UK (Stoker, Wilde), Italy (D’Annunzio), and Germany (Mann). Less well-known are the Scandinavian forays into decadent literature, by the likes of Johannes Jørgensen and Herman Bang (Denmark), Henrik Ibsen and Arne Garborg (Norway), August Strindberg, Gustaf af Geijerstam, and Hjalmar Söderberg (Sweden). In this class, we will study several of the seminal Continental examples of decadent literature and investigate how this literary style was imported to the north—what adaptations and adjustments were necessitated by this importation, and how did the Scandinavian authors frame their own efforts to write under an “adopted” literary style?

As this is a composition course, however, the primary focus will be on developing skills in writing, argumentation, and critical thinking through a range of formal as well as informal writing assignments. The course will culminate in a research project, so students will also learn how to search for, access, and properly incorporate scholarly sources into their papers. The ultimate goal is to develop critical thinking skills through close reading, analytical writing, and in-class participation, which will help make students better thinkers and communicators, regardless of their major field of study.

Arne Garborg, Weary Men (Northwestern UP, ISBN: 978-0810116009)
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Stories (Signet Classics, ISBN: 978-0451530325)
Hjalmar Söderberg, Doctor Glas (Anchor, ISBN: 978-0385722674)
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Three Stories (Penguin Classics, ISBN: 978-0143106142)
Other readings will be provided in the course reader

Prerequisite: Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent. Students may not enroll or attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.