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Feedback to Students

Here are some excerpts from my written responses to assignments. In addition to running commentary on the essay, I provide an evaluative paragraph.

I try to make some positive commentary on every assignment, and to be clear on how the student's work could be improved.

Grade B+

Some of the analysis in this essay is excellent, but it suffers from the notorious broadness of liminality as a critical concept. The definition provided here is that ‘of or pertaining to the threshold or initial stages of a process’, but subsequent citations of the phrase don’t quite seem to relate to ‘initial stages of a process’, e.g. the claim that ‘the Mariner’s tale of woe is […] set in a liminal space between imagination and reality where the supernatural prevails’ (p. 2). Some of this analysis hints at the popular sense of liminality as a kind of in-betweenness, but this renders the concept so vague as to make specific application very difficult. E.g. p.6, in which an excellent study of the dream-like aspects of the ‘Ancient Mariner’ is concluded rather weakly with ‘this in itself is a liminal state of being.’

The strength of this work lies in particular readings of the ‘Ancient Mariner’; critical resources are invoked with good effect and Coleridge’s biographical circumstances are related to the text usefully.

Grade B+

This essay is very well-written, although it is a little bit short. In places the analysis and observations are excellent (e.g. the effect in which ‘illogical occurrences are tempered with logic’, p. 5). You might clarify how the suspension of disbelief functions specifically in a Gothic context, as all fictions rely on this principle to an extent, often with reliance on reason. So emphasise that suspension of disbelief in Gothic is contingent on horror/terror devices played off against reason.

Some paragraphs are very long (e.g. pp. 3-4). In relation to ‘The House of Usher’, Madeline is presented as an ‘illogical or fantastical’ figure, yet it’s unclear whether the claim is that her own character exhibits these traits, or whether she provokes these reactions in others, or how Madeleine is exceptional within a narrative focussed on irrationality and madness. Some of these points could be elaborated and clarified, but overall the analysis is very good.

Grade A

This is a very well-executed argument with some excellent insights. There are some minor prose issues that might be prevented by reviewing and revising a draft. Some sentences are long and could be broken into two or three for clarity. Avoid Hollywoodisms like ‘a toy in a game of catch’ which can weaken the academic credibility a little. Desire and violence do have some rational foundations (preservation of the species, self-defence), so clairfy that you mean these ideas are irrational specifically as represented by Walpole, rather than inherently. Don’t say ‘I would argue’; say ‘I argue.’ But these are minor quibbles; overall it’s a very interesting analysis and a strong ‘A’.

Grade B

This essay is very well-written at times, although the discussion tends to be very general, where quotations and specific examples from the texts would be more persuasive (e.g. p. 5). The prose is typically strong although some words tend to be repeated too many times within a short space (such as ‘stereotype’) and there is over-reliance on rhetorical questions.

Stam, Poulet and Freeland’s theories on reading are invoked to make points that are rather obvious. A body of criticism with greater relevance to the Gothic genre would have been more apposite and would lead to a tighter argument. This might also have informed some of the more suspect claims, such as that sexism ‘escape[s] notice’ (p. 4), and the implication (p. 8) that to express sexism is the primary motivation of Walpole and Lewis. However, much of the analysis is good.

Grade C

This essay has some shrewd critical analysis, but it is far too short. The line of argument suggested in the opening paragraphs is not pursued throughout the essay. The good analysis in this piece is let down at times by the overall construction. For example, there’s an abrupt and unsignalled change to talk about The Castle of Otranto p. 5, and there are no examples of the topic of narrative self-reflexivity in this paragraph. The essay is concluded with a claim that all three stories discussed pay ‘attention to interiority and psychological complexities’, but the opening page proposed to explore these ideas as evident in the self-reflexivity of narrative technique. These are interesting ideas worth exploring but require more analysis and a more coherent essay-structure.