Our reading this week will center around the question of the essay as a literary form, the history of the essay, and of essaying as a cultural activity. On Monday we begin with the writing of the sixteenth-century French writer, Michel Eyquem De Montaigne, whose prose is often cited as among the first instances of the essay, and then turn to commentaries on the essay in the early nineteenth century by William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. On Wednesday we will talk though selected definitions of the essay. As you read, be thinking about the essay you will be writing this week on the nature, form, and purpose of the essay.
Monday September 12
When we have access to digital texts, we will be reading together with the web-annotation tool Hypoethes.is. Here is what you need to do:
- Sign up for an account at the Hypothes.is Start Page
- Click on the The Essay to join our English 402 annotation group
- Read Siddartha Mukherjee’s essay, My Father’s Body, at Rest and in Motion
- Discuss! Our conversation will focus on how Mukherjee uses the essay form
Discussion of selected definitions of the essay to 1925: Montaigne, from “Of Practice, “Of Repentance,” and “Of Vanity” (1580), 1-6; Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Montaigne, or the Skeptic,” 23-24; William Hazlitt, from “On the Periodical Essayists” (1815), 13-18; Charles Lamb, from an unpublished review of Hazlitt’s Table Talk (1824), 19-22; Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quotation and Originality (annotate this text using hypothes.is); William Gass, “Emerson and the Essay” (1982), 106-09
Finally, if you have the inclination, read in the Essays of Michel de Montaigne, available on the Project Gutenberg site. His prose style is amazing, and there is much to learn from how he approaches his subjects. Make some notes on his prose style.
Discussion Partners: Leah, Michael
Wednesday September 14
Discussion of more recent definitions of the essay: Jean Starobinski, from “Can One Define the Essay?” (1983), 110-15; Philip Lopate, “What Happened to the Personal Essay?” (1989), 127-36; Robert Atwan, “Notes Towards the Definition of an Essay” (2012), 194-201; Carl H. Claus, “Toward a Collective Poetics of the Essay” (2012), xv-xxvii
Featured Essay for Discussion: Siddartha Mukherjee’s essay, My Father’s Body, at Rest and in Motion
Discussion Partners: Robert, Kiana
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