Sophister Option Feedback 2012-2013
Published: The (Renegade) Rant and Rave, March 2013, pp. 2-12
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 2012-2013. 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.
American Hardboiled and Noir Fiction
- Love this course. Elizabeth McCarthy is an amazing lecturer; always informative and quick to answer any questions. I always feel encouraged to speak my opinions in this class. Absolutely love this course and thinking about taking it to further study. An option well worth taking. Covers all important hardboiled and noir texts and also examines the cultural and historical contexts.
- Good class, some very interesting obscure texts and interesting mix of films. Never a whole lot of discussion happening though; more or less a series of lectures.
- LOVE THIS COURSE. Liz McCarthy is an amazing tutor for this; her seminars are also interesting and so well-prepared. The reading list is perfectly organised so that it’s not too heavy all at once and nice and spread out. I’m recommending this course to everyone, it’s amazing.
- Absolutely brilliant, I loved it!
- Interesting and informative. After taking this course, you won’t be able to watch TV or read a book without seeing King Arthur. With Margaret Robson, you will definitely get a blast of facts and laughs. One of the most enjoyable courses I have taken. 8/10.
- Great module, but huge, huge range of material. The group was, unfortunately, also huge (about 23) which is way too big to run successful tutorial-style learning. Because of these two factors, the module was very enjoyable and informative but lacking coherence, which only became evident when it came to essay time! Margaret Robson was, as always, superb.
- Enjoyable class; it was mostly just discussion of the texts. The only problem I found was that because the classes were just general discussions they weren’t very useful when trying to write the essay.
- This course follows the figure of Arthur and his knights through many ages, languages and countries. Yet, surprisingly, I learned a lot more than the bare bones of the course outline: the dangers of vampire babies (and children in general); the reason why I prefer Gawain to Lancelot; the amount of stoners in Glastonbury and how Arthurian tropes creep up in the strangest places, such as in Sky TV advertisements, episodes of CSI and even in Harry Potter. Margaret Robson is full of random gems of information and advice on literature and life. (And she brings sweets to class.) The range of texts on the course is great, from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s chronicles to the romances of Chrétien de Troyes to the Morte Darthur to Arthurian TV and films … great course for medieval geeks and non-medieval geeks alike.
- Quite an informal course, which might be a plus for some but a minus for others. Lots of room for independent reading and independent approaches with a relatively flexible structure. Also a very popular course so likely to be a full lecture.
- Excellent course brilliantly taught by Dr. Margaret Robson. She succeeded in creating a very effective atmosphere that encouraged debate and discussion. At times the reading material was challenging, but Dr. Robson made it a delight to be prepared for class. I can’t sing her praises enough! I don’t know how different the class would be if under another’s guidance. Dr. Robson showed both an excellent understanding of her students and her subject matter.
Beckett’s Diminishing Prose of the World
- Lecturer seemed unable (or unwilling) to pitch the classes for those of us who may not have had a working knowledge of all philosophy and criticism ever devised. Very frustrating. I hope I am not a stupid person, but I felt increasingly stupid after every lecture, as Sam Slote went off on an endless barrage of tangents I had no chance of keeping up with. There were two or three in the class who excel in the absurd and love Becketty writers(for the life of me I can’t think of a better word) and he seemed perfectly happy to teach to them, with the rest of us sinking or swimming as our levels allowed. Will avoid this lecturer at all costs in future …
- Fantastic. Do it. It’s hard work but it’s immensely rewarding and you get back double what you put in—few lecturers will support you quite as much as Helen Conrad O’Briain does. Also tea and biscuits.
Big House Literature
- This course is going far too quickly—I’m really enjoying it. I chose it because friends had had Paul Delaney for tutorials before and had wonderful things to say about him, and he really hasn’t disappointed. Rather than have us give presentations he asks us to focus on getting the reading done so we can all contribute to class, and we’ve also handed in two 300-word responses on short critical readings. The texts I’ve read so far have all been enjoyable. I’m not anticipating it being a difficult one to study for coming up to exams.
- Chaucer is an absolute behemoth and studying him will make you a much wiser critic. It’s worth spending the holidays doing as much advance reading as possible for this course. Brendan O’Connell has fantastic knowledge of Chaucer and a real passion for the subject as well. Like all of the best teachers here, he’s also amazingly accommodating. I’m really astonished at how much work he puts into classes. His flaw is that he’s too nice in class. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he quashed a few of the less pertinent lines of discussion once in a while.
- The absolute best course that is offered at TCD. Dr. O’Connell has created an interesting and more-often-than-not funny yet informative course that has students learning new things every time they walk into the classroom. The only problem is that there is no continuation of this course in SS year for students if they’ve taken it in their JS year. There needs to be more Medieval options for students! If you are thinking about taking this course, DO IT! 10/10.
- Even with a year-long course, it’s only enough to start scratching the surface of Chaucer. There is not a better tutor than Brendan O’Connell for such scratching. He is well-prepared, well read and well able to manage any questions or heckling that comes his way. Superb module if you love Chaucer.
- Absolutely fantastic course, I would highly recommend it. It’s engaging and challenging. The reading isn’t too heavy so it means it is really possible to read everything for every class! Dr. O’Connell is brilliant at giving seminars and also encouraging class participation!
- I fell in love with Chaucer. He is a genius. We studied his poetry (everyone should read them—they’re short) and Troilus and Criseyde in the first semester and The Canterbury Tales the second semester. This is the type of class you look forward to. Brendan O’Connell is brilliant.
Children’s Voices in Early Modern Texts
- I chose this course partly because there was a dearth of Shakespeare on the options choices last year. I wasn’t interested in covering a paltry number of texts for Global Shakespeare as one of my year-longs and I’d read most of the texts on the other Shakespeare module. We’ve only had a few classes for this option so far, but the course and Dr. Piesse are excellent. Dr. Piesse expects her students to do work, which is something that should happen more widely in the department. She’s brimming with passion for the texts and the era and that’s infectious. Renaissance literature is arguably the high point of the English canon and it’s great to have an overview of it. Children’s Voices is similar to 16th Century Identities in one sense, in that you are trying to figure out what kind of identity exists for children in the period.
Community and Contemporary Irish Fiction
- Absolutely brilliant, the most engaging module I have done in Trinity so far. The two hours together worked really well and Dr. Cliff is excellent at facilitating without taking over too much, while still leading us in important directions. The one thing that I would change is move to a different room. We were in a lecture hall which is not conducive to discussions.
Contemporary British and Irish Fiction
- I love the reading list for this course and the wide variety of themes covered. I also enjoy finding the links between some of the novels and putting them within the context of modern and contemporary theory. Our tutor, Mark O’Connell, is really encouraging in class and always presents to us so many interesting ways to think about things.
- Mark is very nice. His classes, once again though, are, for the majority, a waste of time. Between awkward silences and tangents from students, not that much is learned. His making everyone do a presentation is good.
- This is a good course. The texts are mostly good, but the reading list involves similar books. The classes are dedicated to purely discussing each text. There is not really any structure besides that.
Contemporary Irish Drama
- This course is light on reading and heavy on articles. The plays are interesting and provocative, but the discussion needs to be picked up a notch. We are given articles and reviews to read rather than academic criticism, which I think would be more beneficial. It is a very international class, which could learn more from theatre trips and video clips.
- If you seriously want to become a writer of fiction, and you haven’t already been published widely, you should probably take this course. I took it after taking on board many criticisms of Deirdre Madden’s teaching style and I’m glad of my choice. It’s not always been easy, but I think I should mount a bit of a defence of Madden. First of all, like her or not, she’s a very devoted teacher who believes in the value of what she’s doing. That latter point is a bit of a rarity in Creative Writing. It says a lot about her that she is able to fine comb some of the crap we write for her in submissions. Second, in spite of what you might hear, she is open to different forms of writing. Yes, she has a specific style she likes, but who doesn’t? She does make an effort to understand where people are coming from with what they write. And when you get over the hurt of having your ego pricked, most of the things she says make a lot of sense. There is a reasonable amount of submitted work: a good thing. You are not going to improve as a writer if you aren’t writing regularly. The reading list is generally very interesting. Before I took this course, I wrote to an academic for advice on whether or not to opt for it. She said that she doubted CW can be taught, but that there is value in going through authors and being instructed by a professional as to what choices they make and why. That is the best side of the course; going through works with DM from a writer’s perspective. Nurturing of the kind DM gives her students is actually immensely helpful. This is not an easy ride, but no serious writer would want that anyway.
Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature
- Great class. Broad range of approaches studied, interesting texts. The lecturer supplies useful background information and the discussions are riveting. Highly recommended.
- I loved this course. The reading list is great. Each class is well planned. There is a lot of group work and general discussion. We are given a critical article to look at each week which is related to the texts we are looking at. This is helpful to get you thinking critically before going to class.
- Fantastic course; Daragh Downes is one of the best and most underrated lecturers in the department. He really inspires the class and gets everybody involved. Material heavy but worth it.
- Amazing course. Great lecturer who allows for innovative engagement with the texts and supports outside readings.
- This is a fantastic course taken by a fantastic supervisor. Downes is extraordinarily committed and he knows Dickens obsessively. At his best, his readings of Dickens can transform your perception of criticism, not just Dickens. It is very important to try and read texts before term for this course because otherwise you’ll be fighting a losing battle trying to read it all during lecture time. DD’s flaw is that he is too nice to students. A lot of people got away with doing little reading and that’s not really acceptable at Sophister level. The standard of debate would have been improved if people weren’t just spouting crap they thought from watching a few Dickens adaptations.
- I loved this course; our tutor Daragh Downes was really great. I thought that he really included the whole class, and made sure that everybody voiced their opinions, and made us all think in different ways. I would have liked this course to be a year-long module, as I would have loved to read more of Dickens’ novels!
Digital Humanities Now
- Interesting module. Possibly too broad. It’s a toss-up between covering a few areas thoroughly or covering the whole topic superficially. There was a mix of tutors, which was interesting, plus we attended a DH seminar (v.useful to see status of professional DH). Susan Schriebman is a top notch tutor. Listens well.
The Gawain Poet
- One of the best modules in the entire course. Dr. O’Connell has to be one of the best lecturers in TCD. The lessons are clear, informative, and structured. Interesting isn’t an adequate adjective to describe the module. Even if you are only remotely interested in Medieval literature, this course will broaden your understanding of literature of the time and the language. 10/10.
- The adorable Brendan O’Connell can do no wrong! He is enthusiastic about his topics, mind-bendingly well informed about same and delivers them in a coherent manner, combining effective teaching with discussion based tutorials. If you like the Middle Ages, you’ll LOVE this.
- The course material (the films and theatrical adaptations, etc.) is excellent, and for any enthusiastic Shakespeare student, this is an excellent class. A proviso, however: Dr. Vyroubalova seems to be still finding her feet in Trinity College. The frustration of these seminars was the fact that we know she knows her stuff, and she knows she knows her stuff, but we don’t know that she knows quite yet how to present it. Very Donald Rumsfeld of me isn’t it? Thoroughly enjoyed the class but wished the presentation of a well-researched, well-structured course was better. Not disappointed, just frustrated.
Hawthorne and Melville
- Prof. Stephen Matterson explicates the nuanced relationship between two of America’s greatest writers in a way that inspires his students. His unrelenting enthusiasm and unwavering positivity is endearing, while simultaneously supportive of an excellent seminar atmosphere. His pedagogical framework is clear and promotes a true appreciation of the topic. In short, this course is balls to the wall class.
Hobgoblin Romances and Shilling Shockers
- Amy was a wonderful lecturer. She took great care in providing us with background info, biographies, pertinent historical details and other interesting facts around the texts we studied. Created a very comfortable environment, which promoted open discussion. Loved the book choices as well.
- Really enjoyed the reading list and the fact that we also studied the texts in relation to publishing, readership, art and society at the time. However, the seminar format did not work as people did not participate, so perhaps half lecture/half seminar would have been better suited.
- Not what I was expecting when I signed up. I found it dull and it couldn’t keep my attention. For students interested in Victorian literature it would be a good option though. In my opinion: 5/10.
Home on the Stage
- I am really enjoying this course so far. There seems to be a great diverse range of material, but it has also been chosen so that it all links back to each other in some way. I think it is a shame perhaps to only be assessed through exam.
Irish Children’s Literature
- Great course so far. The texts are interesting and enjoyable. Each class is well laid out and engaging.
- If you have any reservations about taking a class under the direction of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, dismiss them now. She brings an enormous wealth of knowledge to every class and has been very approachable and friendly from the get-go. If you are at all interested in John Donne or issues of the Elizabethan/Jacobean eras, this class is an absolute must.
The Marriage Plot
- So far, so good! Really like this course, must be interested in 18/19th century period literature though!
- So far not the greatest class. The texts are uninteresting. The seminars are dull and students don’t have a lot to say.
- The title is the most off-putting thing about this module, as in reality it includes a diverse range of texts from the 18th century up until today, and discussion embraces a variety of themes from contemporary society, gender and power balances, as well as our perception of the ‘marriage plot’ as a conclusive and stabilising ending.
- Interesting texts. However, I would like to see less of the same style epistolary novels in the first 4-5 weeks so as to offer some relief from that peculiar writing style. Some of those texts have proven quite dense and sadly I had difficulty keeping up with the reading as a result. I had to prioritise some texts at the expense of others. In terms of the class atmosphere, there is a sense of awkwardness and reluctance to start a proper discussion of the texts. Dr. Douglass teaches this course in a lecture/seminar style, with one class being a lecture and one class being for discussion. However, I am not sure this has been effective. Theoretically the division should work, but in practice the discussion classes have not yet stimulated much debate between students. I am hardly in a position to recommend a change of teaching style, however I do think it would be interesting to perhaps divide the group during class into smaller discussion groups which would then present their opinions on a set statement or question relevant to the text in order to break through the silence we experience at present. The class is rather large, and half the battle lies in providing an atmosphere that enables even the most-shy students to speak out. That is why I would think that smaller group discussions, then being assimilated into a more general concluding discussion (bringing together what each different group came up with), would lend itself to this module.
Modernist Women’s Fiction
- Very good.
Modern Horror Fiction
- Love it.
- Modern Horror. Bernice Murphy conducts her classes in a very lazy and condescending way. It’s a glorified book club whereby she visibly does not prepare anything substantial for us and emphasis is on making us laugh rather than imparting any knowledge or skills. Frankly, it’s surprising to find this going on in the English Department of Trinity College. Something should be done.
Northern Irish Writing
- I really did not enjoy this class. The original lecturer was absent and the lecturer who replaced him seemed quite unhappy about taking on a module she did not construct herself. Student participation in class was frequently encouraged in words but not in practice, as every class was a lecture and student discussion rarely occurred. I found the lecturer dismissive of my own and other students’ comments, and only open to entertaining one interpretation of the studied texts. Any comment which deviated from her own interpretation was dealt with harshly, and as such I did not want to return to class. The texts on the course were very interesting and varied. and while I did not enjoy the classes, I loved reading the texts and criticisms around the texts. The intertextual nature of this course was unique and rewarding, however the manner in which it was executed was poor and I came to wish I had chosen another module despite enjoying the chosen authors.
Older People in Children’s Literature
- Brilliant course. Really enjoyable. Amanda is a great tutor. The texts are mostly enjoyable. There are at least two books a week but they are mostly short enough so it’s still manageable.
The Pain of Unbelonging
- Very interesting course and Melanie Otto knows virtually everything! Love the artistic side to it as well.
- I am really enjoying this module, and while I have yet to finish it, feel confident in writing that it is very well-structured and the lecturer is very encouraging. The chosen texts are interesting and relevant. However, something which I think this module would benefit from is a suggested historical text to read alongside the literature, as a basic understanding of the colonial and postcolonial histories of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean is proving essential, and the history can prove to be difficult to grasp. I would also have enjoyed some texts by Indian authors on the course, but generally I am really enjoying this module.
- DO NOT be put off by the misery implied in the course title. This is a new course, and a really interesting one for lovers of postcolonial studies. The course covers Canadian literature (including Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje’s beautiful novel, In the Skin of a Lion) and Caribbean literature (Wide Sargasso Sea—already read it from second year = less time being anti-social) as well as literature from New Zealand (Katherine Mansfield) and South America. The reading is easy (there are even picture books) and we shouldn’t have too much trouble when exams loom closer and we have to think of something interesting to say. Great course.
Poetry of the United States
- Stephen Matterson’s classes are truly delightful, and strike a good balance between prepared lectures and student discussion. Prof. Matterson exhibits such an obvious joy in all of the poets on the course that it is hard not be enthused. The syllabus is selective but good, giving air time to writers like Gwen Brooks over, say, Eliot or Pound, and also includes some more off-beat items, such as Cole Porter, Gershwin and Bob Dylan.
- This has been my favourite module of my undergrad degree. From Walt Whitman to Bob Dylan, I think the variety of authors—and the in-depth introduction to each of them—means that there’s really something for everyone here. The range of poets included in the course is extensive and varied; the lectures are cogently delivered, and the seminars are conducted inclusively and yet to a high critical standard. I thoroughly recommend this module to anyone considering it for study next year.
The Poetry of War
- I really enjoyed this class and it is probably one of the best I’ve taken. We studied the Poetry of War beginning with the Trench Poets of WWI and moving on to less-known poets, at least in the context of War Poetry, such as Louis MacNeice. We looked at poets from the Thirties, WWII and the post-war period, all of which provided a different look at war and its place in poetry. Examining poetry from different periods and how it engages with war was really interesting. The module was great because we looked at works that are not usually associated with War Poetry. To consider works other than those of Owen or Sassoon was one of the best parts of the course. Choosing our own essay titles as well gave us the freedom to really explore what area of the course interested us the most and to really think about and engage with the material. I would definitely recommend this course.
- It’s really great to get the opportunity under any conditions to read ‘The War Poets’ and ‘War Poetries’ of early 20th-century Britain and Ireland. In itself, the course content for this module is never less than engaging. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the actual classes, or so I felt anyway. The *repeated* lectures on WWI and Easter Rising history became tiresome, partly due to the near-absence of any critical or bibliographical grounding for the opinions expressed. No equivalent attempt was made to emphasise the context, course, and history of the Spanish Civil War, or World War II. Furthermore, while I understood going into the module that there would be a necessary element of omission in the selection of poets studied, I was surprised and disappointed to find Spanish Civil War poets replaced by a (very cursory) focus on W.H. Auden, and a series of lectures on Louis MacNeice; WWII poets (such as Keith Douglas and Sidney Keyes) were also in absentis, in favour of lectures on T.S. Eliot’s 4 Quartets, Sylvia Plath’s ‘Daddy’, and the work of late 20th-century poets such as Michael Longley and David Gasgoyne. It was entirely appropriate that Auden, MacNeice, and Eliot were included in the course, but not, in my opinion, at the expense of paying attention to other poets whose work more directly emerges from the experience of war, and not just war-time living, in the ’30s and ’40s. Moreover, as the department already offers modules that comprehensively engage with the works of Auden, Eliot, and MacNeice, their inclusion on this course seemed somewhat arbitrary, all the more so given that bibliographies and concomitant critical guidance for these (and all) authors on the course were lacking. Similarly, while the thematic resonance of war in the work of later 20th-century poets is no doubt an interesting (and vast) area for research, the module’s parameters purportedly stop at 1945/50, so the continual references made to Michael Longley and Eavan Boland in the later half of term seemed misplaced and was gratingly repetitive. Most disappointing about this module was the lack of opportunities for students to participate. Over the entire module, I only twice attempted to offer an opinion to the class, but discussion was actively discouraged, and my comments more or less dismissed. My personal feeling is that classes run under a seminar format should facilitate (if not encourage) at least some degree of group discussion and debate. The lack of any comprehensive critical or bibliographical guidance in the module only compounded my unease in and dissatisfaction with the classes as a whole. I regret having taken this module.
- Probably the most interesting course I have studied so far. Wish I could do it again.
Postwar British Fiction
- Eve Patten is great in every way. Course content is excellent if you’re interested in this period of writing. Divides the class into one hour lecture and one hour seminar discussion, which is a really good system.
- Eve Patten is excellent. She prepares work and conducts her classes in a planned and logical way. Enjoyable and educational.
Religion and Its Literary Monsters
- Controversial, graphic, inspiring, and brilliant—though there’s a real lack of religion talk! I personally don’t mind this. It’s more a discussion of the gruesome, the monstrous, the sexual, the taboos and dark sides of humanity. Really a delight to trek out to at 10 a.m. midweek. Jarlath ensures everyone voices an opinion, and prods each individual further very often, so enlightening topics emerge. I will remember this module for years to come. Great class dynamic.
- Jarlath Killeen will argue every point, no matter how ridiculous. If that sounds like fun then this is a good course (with an interesting and varied reading list) but you need to enjoy people playing devil’s advocate to your suggestion.
The Revolutionary Muse
- Although Dr. Downes is only setting out on the long and winding road of academia, his path towards greatness is already set. These seminars were fantastic, his enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and, overall, there is nothing negative one can say about the class. This is truly a rare occurrence and all the sweeter for it. Thanks Daragh, you’re a top lad.
- My favourite course this year. If you want to get excited about poetry this is the course for you.
Shakespeare and the Popularisation of History
- Lecturer really knows her stuff, but is a nervous speaker which I feel has a knock-on effect—the class is quiet and rather slow-moving. I feel, however, that the structure of the module itself is highly problematic. Each history play is rather unchanging, similar themes, characters lacking depth, very similar plot structures and endings. For a year-long course, I feel the monotony inherent to the history plays makes for dissatisfying studies and analysis.
- This course had the potential to be interesting, but I am not particularly enjoying it. I think that our teacher does not seem to have much to impart, but is also dismissive of some of our comments. The two hours go more slowly than any of my other tutorials which is a shame because so many people love to study Shakespeare during their time here. I think perhaps it is just not taught particularly imaginatively/we are not really encouraged to participate, so people choose not to.
Theatre in Context: The Dublin Stage
- Liked it. Deirdre McFeely puts in a lot of work, and it shows.
- Very heavy course. Interesting though. I would highlight the large amount of reading you must do.
- Absolutely amazing module. Lecturer is incredibly informed, approachable and friendly. Confident speaker and willing to answer any and all questions. One of my top experiences in the entirety of my time at TCD, and I went in as a Russian-lit newbie.
- I loved this course—I hadn’t read much Russian literature before this, but it was a thoroughly interesting class. The texts gave you a real overview of Tolstoy’s work, and Justin Doherty was a real pleasure to learn from (though I may have something different to say after he gives our essays back this week). Definitely recommended.
Twentieth Century Science Fiction
- Incredibly fun and very active class; laid-back atmosphere promotes comfortable and intelligent discussion. Bernice and Miles are good-humoured and educated, and are interested in other’s opinions each day. Very deceptively productive and educational, course is highly recommended.
- Very popular, so likely to have 20+ people in the lecture, which makes things tricky. Having said that, Bernice Murphy is a great lecturer who handles the large group well.
T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden
- This is a chance to cover some really great material. Most people coming to the class had read a lot of Eliot but never studied Auden before, so the dynamic was a bit one-sided perhaps as the lecturer is also an Eliot specialist. There was little or no comparison between the two poets, which was a shame, but on the whole classes were well-prepared and informative. Definitely worthwhile.
Ulysses in Contexts
- For me, the most challenging aspect of studying Ulysses for the year has been to read the damn thing! I know I’d never have managed recreationally, so this course has offered me a welcome (if sometimes daunting) opportunity to really focus on the text and (always good for an English student) actually learn how to read with something like patience, and then enthusiasm. The classes are detail-heavy, but ultimately impressive for this, and provide excellent guides for getting to grips with Joyce’s particular kind of genius. It’s gradually dawning on me how many layers and shades make up this great love-book Joyce created—and even though it’s tough at times, being struck by the brilliance that’s in a good book is something I’m only grateful to have experienced as a student. Great module and well taught.
Yeats and the Making of Modern Irish Poetry
- Dr. Tom Walker is fantastic. The course is well-structured and accessible while still being engaging and challenging. The work load is manageable but appropriate for this stage in college life.