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Undergraduate Dissertations

Final-year English Majors at NTU have the option of a Final Year Project. This is a 10,000-word undergrauate dissertation, supervised by a member of faculty in the field. In 2011-12 I supervised a Final Year Project on Ann Radcliffe, and I was enlisted as second reader for six others. In 2012-13 I will supervise six projects.

Readers of Final Year Projects grade and comment with reference to the following criteria:

  1. Argument (originality, coherence, complexity)
  2. Textual analysis of primary texts
  3. Secondary research
  4. Organization
  5. Style

Here are excerpts from some of the reports I produced 2011-12. These are internal documents. First a project on Wordsworth:

This essay engages closely with ‘Tintern Abbey’ and The Prelude. The quality of analysis varies: some is excessively basic, while some interpretations are nuanced, e.g. the juxtaposition of movement and stasis (p. 24), and the inner journey contrasted with the outer (p. 27). At times the argument is self-contradictory. It is unusual to claim that Wordsworth’s poetry is ‘about the power of the human mind and imagination as opposed to religion’ (p. 6), when critics tend to view these concepts as related. Subsequently the paragraph ends with the contrary claim that Wordsworth is ‘blurring the lines between Nature and God’ to ‘synthesize two […] opposites’ (p. 7). A paragraph that introduces Biblical ideas of spiritual rebirth doesn’t relate these to Wordsworth, but concludes weakly that ‘for Wordsworth, the creative process of his mind also operates in the spiritual realm of things’ (p. 12). There is a need for textual evidence of Wordsworth’s ‘spiritual rebirth’ here, although some arises later (pp. 15-16).

The Prelude can refer to four substantially different texts. It would be useful to comment on which text is used and why, as a significant change in the 1850 version (seemingly used here) from the 1805 Prelude is Wordsworth’s revision of pantheistic content to conventional Christian sentiments. Awareness of the different texts is a basic context for any study of The Prelude and has immediate relevance to this essay’s argument on religion. It is unclear which edition has been used: the Penguin edition of Wordsworth was edited by Nicholas Roe, not Christopher Ricks, in 1992, not 1994. Subsequently Stephen Gill edited a Penguin collection in 2004.

On Ann Radcliffe:

The level of analysis is generally quite basic. The discussion of Schedoni’s ‘process of double concealment’ (p. 17) is among the stronger passages. Secrecy in Gothic literature is a matter of psychological complexity that facilitates interesting and nuanced interpretations, but this essay tends to address the theme in quite a literal-minded manner with strong emphasis, for example, on instances of physical disguise by use of clothes. In some passages (e.g. pp. 6-7, on the wish to conceal another person) a good point is made but is discussed in very general terms, where quotation and close analysis of Gothic imprisonment would be useful. Greater attention to the creation of false identities and the suppression of real ones would also have been valuable.

The essay is not sub-divided into chapters and, as noted above, it reads as a series of observations on passages from Radcliffe that relate to the overall theme of secrecy, by turns closely and tenuously. The analysis is divided adequately into coherent paragraphs, but an overall, organizational principle might have given direction and unity to the close readings to form an argument.


On Chinese-American fiction:

This is a clear and systematic discussion of Chinese American experience with reference to A Thread of Sky, although much of this structure is indebted to excessive reliance on quotation and paraphrase of critical writing on Orientalism, and generalised commentary about the issues that arise. The argument lacks nuance and is prone to broad statements that are unsupported ...In prolonged sections there is little examination of primary sources. Reiteration of critical ideas dominates early sections, with somewhat perfunctory references to the text at the end of particular paragraphs, e.g. pp. 7-9. Gradually more references to Fei’s text are invoked as evidence of the critics’ claims. In later pages there is more sustained engagement with the primary text, and there are intelligent readings of Fei’s narrative ...

There is a good range of critical material here, notwithstanding the website ‘Brainy Quote’. At first there is too much synopsis of Said and Bhabha, but subsequently the secondary material is cited more effectively to propel examination of Fei’s text.

On Postmodernism:

Usually the prose expresses the ideas adequately. At times the writing is unclear, for e.g. the opening claim that postmodern writers do not explore ‘the limits of epistemological truths’ but instead ‘how our knowledge of [intellectual] capacity is severely compromised’, which sounds like the same thing (p. 1). Transitional sentences, such as between quotation and discussion, are often problematic; ‘these are directly connected to the resultant landscapes that are being sculpted in the novel, of which their primary anchor is not reality’ (p. 5), etc.