21L.704 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate

Studies in Poetry: "What's the Use of Beauty?"


A list of topics covered in the course is provided in the calendar.

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

Can the ability to recognize beauty - in a person, a painting, a poem - make you a better person? Is there a necessary or even causal link between beauty and justice? While these ideas may seem outrageous today, a number of writers in the late 18th and 19th centuries argued that there was an intimate connection between the perception of the beautiful and of the good.

This subject explores variations on the proposition that an adequate recognition of beauty could, however indirectly, make you a more humane person. Readings extend widely across literary and non-literary genres, including lyric poetry and the novel, philosophical prose and essays. Though the majority of texts will come from British literary authors of the 19th century, the literature will be supplemented with readings from foundational works in aesthetics from philosophers including Plato and Immanuel Kant, as well as 20th-century aesthetic theorists including Theodor Adorno, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Elaine Scarry. Readings will include work from authors including Wordsworth, Keats, Mary Robinson, Mary and Percy Shelley, Thomas De Quincey, Dickens, Walter Pater, and Wilde.

Course Requirements

Students are required to attend all class sessions and to participate. Class participation is not evaluated in terms of how many brilliant things you say in the course of the semester, but it is required that you have read the texts thoroughly and come to class prepared to talk about them.

In addition, every student will be required to deliver at least one presentation on an assigned work during the semester. These presentations, between 15-20 minutes in length, should be conceived as exercises in literary interpretation through close analysis, and should ideally help to stimulate a discussion through arguments and questions.

Finally, there will be one 20-page essay, a portion of which you will write and submit halfway through the semester.


Plagiarism - use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center.


1 Introduction
2 Elaine Scarry
3 Elaine Scarry (cont.)
4 Plato
5 David Hume
6 Immanuel Kant
7 Friedrich Schiller
8 William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
9 William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (cont.)
10 William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (cont.)
11 William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (cont.)
12 Samuel Taylor Coleridge (cont.)
13 John Keats
14 John Keats (cont.)
15 John Keats and Walter Benjamin
16 John Keats and Walter Benajmin (cont.)

Theodor Adorno

17 Thomas Love Peacock and P. B. Shelley
18 Mary Shelley
19 Mary Shelley (cont.)
20 Lord Byron and George Gordon
21 Lord Byron and George Gordon (cont.)
22 Charles Dickens
23 Charles Dickens (cont.)

Martha Nussbaum

24 Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater
25 Oscar Wilde
26 Student Presentations

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2005
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments