Option Responses 2011-2012

Sophister Option Feedback 2011-2012

Published: The (Renegade) Rant and Rave, March 2012 pp. 2-9

The views expressed in the following pages are those of the anonymous individuals participating in classes provided by TCD School of English and are in no way representative of views of The (Renegade) Rant and Rave, which may not be considered as responsible for the views expressed within these pages. This information was gathered by The (Renegade) Rant and Rave in order share informal opinions about various classes on offer for Sophister students of TCD School of English for the academic year 2011-2012. The information collected here should be regarded as informal opinion only and may in no way be considered as fact or objective critique. The (Renegade) Rant and Rave cannot provide any further information about any of its anonymous sources.  Each bullet point denotes a new piece of feedback from an another person and should be regarded as a separate entity. 

African & Caribbean Literature

  • As we’re studying places that we don’t know a great deal about, there’s a good bit of background research involved into countries and authors, so we’re learning about politics, history and theory as well as literature, which I personally enjoy. Can get rather mired in theory at points.
  • Excellent module, very well taught, and with a perfect balance of theoretical and textual discussion. Real awareness of historical and social context, with some very enjoyable and interesting course texts. Lots of class discussion and a great depth of knowledge learned throughout the year.

Arthurian Literature

  • This was a rigorously structured course, making use of a variety of formats (including group work, debate, role-play and presentations) in order to engage with the core body of Arthurian Literature and its central traditions. This is perhaps a challenging option if you are shy, as even within a fairly large class it is impossible to escape voicing your views (this is a good thing). However, classes tended to strike the right balance of lecture-led and student-led discussion, and in terms of the former, you couldn’t be in a safer pair of hands, as the lecturer has a terrifically comprehensive knowledge of just about everything in her field, and delivers information clearly and consistently.

Art Writing

  • Disappointing module. There is no real sense of unity linking each lecture which gives it a very disjointed and insubstantial feel, as if it’s still waiting to take off. No real substance to each lecture with very little class participation. Required reading can be quite tedious as well, lots of archaic theoretical discussions. Very disappointing, as the original concept had seemed very interesting.

Beckett’s Diminishing Prose of the World

  • Excellent, clear and insightful lecturing from Sam Slote. Something to consider is that the format is really that of two lectures instead of tutorial or seminar, though Sam set aside time for discussion and answered our questions. Subject matter is quite difficult, Beckett’s prose fiction isn’t for the faint hearted.
  • A very interesting, mind-boggling and an in-depth exploration of Beckett. Sam Slote was good at lecturing but there was not much class interaction which was OK for such a complicated set of texts. You MUST like Beckett’s work and style in order to enjoy this class or at least have a genuine interest in his work.


  • This class is an absolute must. If you’re not already a fan of Chaucer, you will be by the end of this course. Classes run at a comfortable pace (e.g. 5 weeks on Troilus and Criseyde) in order to get the most out of the texts (in terms of enjoyment and analysis). There is ME language help available for all those who need it, and the lecturer is absolutely brilliant. This is by far the best course on offer, both in the material it covers and in how it is taught. 

Community and Contemporary Irish Literature

  • Avoid! Lecturer generally seems unwilling to consider opinions that are not his own. He’s very difficult to interact with. The prescribed texts are largely (with a few exceptions) poor. Very few engaging texts on the course. It has basically descended into an uncomfortable and really awkward series of monotonous lectures. Not what I was expecting.

Creative Writing (SS)

  • The course is really about teaching people who write in their spare time how to structure their writing and compose finished pieces, etc. The main way this happens is through handing in work every two weeks of increasing length. Deirdre also sees us individually to discuss work which everyone finds helpful. If you want to do the course, the submission doesn’t need to be overly ambitious. Just getting the basics right is by far the most important thing.
  • Students aren’t always comfortable expressing their opinions to moderator/in class. Less time spent on in-class activities and more given to in-depth critiques of each other’s work might be more helpful.

Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature

  • Excellent course with a teacher who loves his subject matter. Some great works to read, though it might ruin your childhood memories if you spend too much time psychoanalyzing Winnie-the-Pooh.

David Foster Wallace

  • Coleman very avuncular. DFW is a genius, funny and seductive. Texts are long but very engaging; you fly through them. All right class engagement too, with little pressure to contribute.
  • This is a really good course – if you like DFW then it’s pretty exciting to be reading and talking about his works in a setting like this. For the most part, it attracts people who are already into the subject matter, which makes for lively discussions. Philip Coleman is seriously knowledgeable, open to all opinions, and really draws on the urgency of this stuff. It’s a really reading-heavy course, but it tends not to matter if you’re a bit behind.

Death in American Life and Letters

  • Loveliest teacher taking the most depressing course. No presentations allow for great small-class discussions, and when she goes out of her way to make sure you don’t have too much to read, there really is no point in not doing the work. Very enlightening. Would highly recommend.

Detective Fiction

  • A solid survey of detective (crime) fiction up to the 1960s. Great books to read, but the class loses a lot with a teacher who thinks you’re wrong unless you agree with him. God forbid you haven’t read any of the stuff before, because he will just ignore you. 7/10.

Digital Humanities Now

  • This is an exciting new class, which can keep your options open in terms of career choices and continued study. Digital Humanities deals with the interaction of technology and the arts, (on a very simple level, think of the challenges and opportunities presented to literature by the ebook reader) and this course provides an excellent overview of theory as well as some hands-on classes. Cutting-edge and very accessible. Lecturer is one of the top experts in the field and a lot of fun.

Faith and Writing: The Victorian Literature of Belief

  • An interesting topic. Classes are very lively and highly entertaining. The lecturer is very approachable, and open to any opinion on subjects. His approach is motivating. I wish we were given a reading list before the class so we could come prepared; a reading list which could probably include a few biblical passages. Class discussions would greatly benefit from an orientation towards specific essays which would inform us on the subject of the day. Maybe something to think about for next year!

The Gawain-Poet

  • This is a great opportunity to study all four texts of the wonderful Pearl-poet. Brendan O’Connell is sound, class discussion is top notch and very enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Global Shakespeare

  • Fantastic course. In every class the atmosphere is comfortable, relaxed, and fast-moving. The premise of the module is fascinating and inspired. Lecturer is pleasant, helpful and very informed, and always enthusiastic. Assigned reading is hit and miss in its relevancy sometimes but always provokes voiced opinions, and the amount is neither too dense nor too light.

Hobgoblin Romances

  • Really interesting course which was well taught and structured. The readings were well balanced and I never felt overloaded with texts at any point. Well recommended.

Irish Children’s Literature

  • Fantastic course. Comprehensive reading list and very knowledgeable lecturer. Keeps lectures fresh and interesting.
  • A really interesting course that engages with various aspects of Children’s Literature, looking specifically at Irish texts. While not all of the course texts are particularly noteworthy, all are intriguing in their own way and shed light on many areas of ‘Irishness’; and includes everything from picture books to young adult dystopian novels, all of which are 20th / 21st Century texts. As the novels are for children, the reading isn’t the most difficult or challenging, but classes manage to engage with literary theories and child psychology, in terms of looking at an implied reader. Dr. Whyte is a wonderful lecturer (and such a nice man) and always creates fruitful topics for discussion so that the class are more than willing to engage. This area is his speciality and his knowledge really shines through. He also provides substantial secondary reading material and is very approachable in terms of discussing anything of importance/relevance. The classes are really relaxed and everyone tends to contribute. Weekly presentations on the given novel/topic are the norm. Although not perhaps a course many would consider, it has been a more than worthwhile venture. Extremely nostalgic and rewarding.
  • This class has great texts included on the course, yet due to the large class size, it can become easy to quickly feel outside of the discussion taking place in the class, which is a pity. It may simply be due to the nature of some loud students coupled with the class size, because the lecturer is fantastic. However, perhaps involvement from a few more students could have been encouraged or supported a little better; some felt it difficult to jump into the discussion at times. Having knowledge of Irish history, however vague, would be beneficial to provide a better understanding of some of the texts. This course is a great way to discover books you may not usually encounter reading on your own, such as picture books, which gave us a really interesting and enjoyable session.

Irish Short Fiction

  • Excellent course. Very, very enjoyable, brilliant texts, enormous amounts of class participation, and really well facilitated by Dr. Delaney. A joy!

Jane Austen

  • If you like Jane Austen, this is quite probably the most enjoyable way you can spend two hours every week with your clothes on. If you don’t like Jane Austen, you’re a philistine.

Jonathan Swift: In His Age and Ours

  • This course was changed to Swift and Defoe due to a change in tutor. I dislike the Defoe texts that we have to read partly because I didn’t sign up to study him and partly because I don’t really like him anyway.
  • I’ve only just started this module and so far I really like it. The only problem I have with this course is that we were only told that Daniel Defoe would be included in this option when the classes actually started, not during the summer, which meant students were unprepared. It would have been nice to have been notified of this change in advance of the course actually starting.

Literary Childhoods: From Locke to Lewis Carroll

  • So far this course has been fantastic. It covers a broad range of topics, and the class discussions are engaging and thought provoking. Our lecturer keeps the class going, yet doesn’t pick on any one in particular. Over all it is a great atmosphere to discuss what you have to say about the text!
  • Excellent course. Anne Markey is a brilliant teacher. Each class is compelling and thought provoking. The reading list is very good despite Locke’s inclusion.

Literature of the American South

  • The class was well-paced and the discussions helpful more often than not, but I think it would do better as a year-long course rather than scrambling to get so much done in one term.

Milton & Revolutionary Image

  • Only just started. Very excited about what’s to come.
  • Very interesting. Crawford Gribben is a great tutor. Class participation is constantly encouraged and there is group work in some classes. However, there is the daunting factor of presentations that must be made on the podium in front of the class.

The Modernist Short Story

  • Great course, lecturer, authors, texts. Also each author is given two weeks of study which is great. Would highly recommend.
  • Enjoyable course, great texts, excellent tutor/lecturer.

Monsters! 19th Century Horror and its Cultural Afterlife

  • A good approach to the topic. Classes are very lively and entertaining. The highly informal approach suits the subject. I wouldn’t have thought talking about things which are by definition gross would be so much fun. I would have chosen other texts, but there is only so much you can do in one semester. One semester is so short!
  • Really, really highly recommended – you shouldn’t leave the English department without taking a class with Jarlath anyway. The content is consistently engaging and made relevant to a host of cultural and social issues, which really makes you consider the impact of older concepts of horror in our current vocabularies of fear, prejudice and all that good stuff. Jarlath unabashedly disagrees with everything everyone says, which seems a little annoying, but makes for really stimulating discussion. I’d like to know what he really thinks sometimes though. He seems genuinely interested in what students have to say, but does ask people randomly for their opinions, so either do the reading or last minute Wikipedia-ing before class.

Old English Poetry and Prose

  • No one picks Old English unless they love it, so there’s little point in me trying to persuade anyone to do it… but then that’s a big part of what’s so awesome about this course. Everyone who’s doing it adores it, and that’s a lovely amount of enthusiasm to be contained in Dr. Alice Jorgensen’s not-huge office. She’s also entirely wonderful, describing the goriest of battle scenes as “quite jolly” and providing us all with tea halfway through. She’s content to try and answer the most stupid or obscure questions, so though it’s far from being an easy option, it isn’t in the slightest bit intimidating. My area of expertise lies in rants rather than raves, but Old English has been nothing but brilliant.

Old Norse

  • Long I wanted to read the work of skalds of old; to consult the staves of the cunning craftsmen of that archaic tongue to pare the pages of the saga-penmen. Norse is awesome; let none contest, though for the lax layabout, the unlearned slacker, the grammar will swiftly prove grave – conjugations that crack bones and wits, declensions that dance beyond understanding – but if the elder accounts of ancient peoples leave you longing to learn speech weird except to wisdom-seekers, if sea-farers and stirring stories of mighty deeds of gods and men sound more like your speed, hark! The morphosyntax may seem less malign a small stumbling-stone in your way To get to the good stuff. You who allow the appeal of Old English, who rejoiced in reading of roods and Cædmon have cause to turn hither your care. There’s also a boon in the often-brought biscuits.
  • Old Norse is scary. But it’s also totally worth it. Prepare to be terrified and stretched and challenged. It’s a course that’s lovely for anyone who’s been sitting in tutorials getting miffed at people making comments like, “well, um, I liked the characters”, because there isn’t a chance to slack off at any point. It’s thoroughly a challenge, but it’s also a very cosy sort of option. There are always biscuits on the table and you know that Dr Conrad O’Briain genuinely cares about your welfare, because she’s lovely, and also unendingly enthusiastic. Old Norse is a very intellectually satisfying course.

Poetry of the United States

  • Best class I’ve taken in College so far. A teacher who clearly loves his subject, and makes time for students of all speeds. The subject is as interesting as it is vast.
    Only problems come from an unrealistic work load (to do whole collections of poetry and digest them every week can be very difficult). Conversations are always enlightening though, if at times intimidating. Would highly recommend.
  • Really enjoy it so far. Keeping up with the reading can be a little difficult with my other courses and responsibilities, but it’s generally a fun sort of challenge.

The Poetry of War

  • Gerald Dawe is an absolutely inspiring lecturer: he rarely speaks from notes or writes on the board which gives the lectures/seminars a feeling of conversation rather than instruction. His experience in war poetry is vast (he’s the editor of ‘Earth Voices Whispering’) which is hugely beneficial in terms of gaining ideas for essays, but it also means you have to have read fairly extensively in order to follow his train of thought. Gerald goes into the historical background of every single poet thoroughly which can seem tedious at the time, but is actually crucial in understanding thematic choices within the poetry. Although this term Gerald has been away for several seminars, I couldn’t recommend this course enough.
  • Bullshit. Incredibly monotonous. Can be summed up in perhaps a sentence but is stretched over an entire course. Also: Gerald Dawe doesn’t observe the lecture/tutorial format; instead, he gives two lectures. He leaves absolutely no space for student response. Also the solemnity associated with war is tediously observed, such that every lecture is like a sermon. I would not do this option again, given the choice … but then again I didn’t really have a choice to begin with . . .
  • Dreadful. Depressing.

Post-Colonial Women’s Writing

  • Very enjoyable course with a wide selection of texts that cover the variety of the subject. Well taught, with plenty of discussion. Dr. Otto was very open to alternative readings and opinions.

Post-Modern Fiction: Maps, Labyrinths, Webs

  • Very refreshing and intriguing. Quite challenging to grasp as most of Post-Modernism seems to have an unstable foundation based on speculation and literary/narrative trickery, but lecturer is exceptionally learned and clear. The course would benefit from fewer reading assignments; we rarely get to discuss all of them despite a break-free 2hr class. Some articles seem redundant, and others would become clearer if we had more time to consider and research them.
  • Generally excellent and enjoyable class, somewhat tempered by the fact that weekly writing assignments are involved, and lecture topics tend to be a little disorganized, and the reading assignments from week to week are not entirely clear. Nonetheless, if you like Pynchon, Calvino, or other Post-Modernist writers, this is interesting and worthwhile.
  • Although Post-Modernism was not among my top choices, I went into this course with high hopes. After the first seminar these where slightly dashed. The brief description of the course in the booklet was as unhelpful as that first class, and it then took until mid-semester to get a slightly clearer  understanding of what this course was trying to do. Personally, I do not see how a talk on an architecturally confusing hotel is supposed to help students understand ‘The English Patient’. I have considered repeatedly each week why I have not taken to this course nor felt satisfied with what I am doing. Unfortunately it seems to have come down to the way in which it is being taught. In trying hard not to offend Prof. Silver, I have come to find her way of teaching outdated (or maybe it’s just Post-Modern). It’s seems that over the weeks she may have had high expectations for her students as there has been more than one occasion in which one of her references has fallen flat but luckily there is ‘hope for us yet’. Prof. Silver’s manner has also caused some less-than-warm feelings amongst her students as, again on several occasions, a student’s input has been left to silence, un-acknowledgment, and a lot of head movement. This is often filled after a minute by another student just trying to make it less awkward. A large amount of student input has been passed off lightly. It appears that if you do not share an opinion with Prof. Silver, then it is hardly worth looking at. The large amounts of printouts have their moments of being helpful. Until these last weeks when a student requested a reprieve, Prof. Silver has requested that we write a weekly close reading of the texts. After the first week we were informed that we had not ‘understood’ the assignment. This was repeated the following two weeks. When these readings where handed back there was – in cases I am aware of – a severe lack of helpful critique. One of my own handups was returned to me with various ticks and spattered with the phrase, ‘What?’. In terms of the course texts I have not been able to clearly see how some of them fit under the title of this course. The first half of the semester’s texts seem far from connected to the later half. A title such as ‘House of Leaves’ fitting under ‘Maps, Labyrinths, Webs’ quite nicely, unlike Virginia Woolf’s ‘Between the Acts’. The thought of forming a title and short explanation of why it’s worth doing to suit Prof. Silver is daunting and seems impossible.
  • Don’t know what people’s beef with Brenda Silvers is. She not the most academically rigorous, but the texts are all standout, esp. Pynchon and Borges.

The Revolutionary Muse: Form & Theme in Romantic Poetry and Poets

  • Downes is nauseatingly likable. Classes involve very close readings of the poems. One poem per lecture fairly manageable, but if – like me – poetic inspiration doesn’t flow it can be a drag.
  • Interactive class, text-centred and very involving. Top tutor.

Shakespeare and Sexuality

  • A great topic and a great lecturer. The detailed view of each and every text provides us not only with a general understanding of Shakespeare, but also a good history of the criticism of his texts. The reading lists are short and detailed, which makes our ground work easier. Highly enjoying it!

Tragic Patterns in Ancient Drama

  • In this subject we had to read a play per week. There is an oral presentation that takes place throughout the first 15 mins (more or less). From the themes explored in that presentation, the teacher begins the debate with the rest of the class. It really can be interesting if you read the plays (sadly that has not always happened)! I would say this subject gives you a better understanding of medieval, Gothic and modern literature, so it is worth doing. Through Aeschylus you can understand Mary Shelly better! and even Oscar Wilde! and … Chaucer! and JK Rowling!! and the list goes on… We had two teachers in this class: Andrew Power and Mark Sweetnam, both were good. I would say you would be having Sweetnam; he is very interested in Modernism so sometimes he may link a Greek Play with a modern text in quite an interesting way (you may not agree with those links so you can just protest and debate!), he structures the lesson quite rationally and analyses the play as if it were a mathematical problem (perhaps because he studied Maths and English), so that can be good, but if it ever seems that he is thus narrowing your vision, do not forget that you actually can stop him, give your voice and conduct the discussion toward another path! I believe he will kindly appreciate it!

Ulysses in Contexts

  • Really engaging. Slote is probably the closest the English Department has to a genius. Also with ‘Ulysses’ there’s never the sense you’re reading anything less than great. Questions put to students turn very tense; don’t know if it’s the material or Sam or the class.

Women Writing War

  • Women’s Writing was my second choice for the year-long option. After taking Women’s 20th Century Fiction last year, which I enjoyed immensely, I had hoped for a change. It has not been a disappointment at all, and I am entirely glad I am in the class. Dr. Patten is engaging with all her students and is open to all opinions and ideas brought up in each seminar. This course has been well laid out and followed from the beginning. At no stage have I found myself lost or confused by a topic, as has been the case in other courses. Each text is well chosen. It is easy to find a common thread of themes, topics, and ideas throughout. Dr. Patten is, as always, helpful and delightful. Repeatedly offers help to all her students and shows concern and knowledge for the welfare of each.

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