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Essay Questions

EN 206 English and German Romanticism: Assessed Essay Titles


The following titles are suggestions which you may modify in consultation with tutors:

1. Nature for the Romantics often appears to have two faces, to be the source both of people's happiness and of their misery. Discuss the ways in which two or three works have explored that duality.

2. 'Both Goethe's Faust and Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein can be seen as titanic overreachers, as modern versions of Prometheus: the difference lies in how that overreaching is evaluated'. Discuss.

3. One of the books that Frankenstein's monster reads is Goethe's Werther. In what ways are these two texts mutually illuminating?

5. ‘Wie aber der Riese Antäus unbezwingbar stark blieb, wenn er mit dem Fusse die Mutter Erde berührte, und seine Kraft verlor, sobald ihn Herkules in die Höhe hob: so ist auch der Dichter stark und gewaltig, so lange er den Boden der Wirklichkeit nicht verlässt, und er wird ohnmächtig, sobald er schwärmerisch in der blauen Luft umherschwebt’ (Heine). Compare Heine’s poltically radical poetry with Shelley’s in the light of this statement. (or, alternatively, use the statement as the basis for a comparison of one English and one German prose text).

6. The essential vision of the German Romantics has been defined as ‘their feeling for the uncanny, the menace, the sense of evil lurking behind the façade of the world’ (Wellek). Compare one German and one English work in the light of this view.

7. Discuss and compare the role of nature and landscape in Goethe’s and Wordsworth’s poetry. (You should focus on a small selection of poems).

8. ‘Alles Übel ist isoliert und isolierend -- es ist das Prinzip der Trennung’ (Novalis). Discuss the relationship between evil and isolation/separation in one English and one German text.

9. ‘The dialectic is pervasive in romantic writing, and will frequently turn on the recognition that rises may be inseparable from falls’ (Karl Miller). Consider the dialectical relationship between ‘rises’ and ‘falls’ in Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Der goldene Topf, or any other Romantic texts in which you find it present.

10. Discuss and compare the importance of either Sehnsucht; or history; or revolution; or irony; or Italy; or the journey; or the figure of the devil; or the Doppelgänger in any two works.

11. ‘Since the object of romantic or erotic love is not the recognition and appreciation of the beloved woman as an independent other but rather the assimilation of the female into the male [. . .] the woman must finally be enslaved or destroyed, must disappear or die’ (Anne Mellor). Discuss the representation of romantic love in one English and one German text in the light of this statement.

12. Consider how far Werther and Frankenstein (or P. B. Shelley's Alastor) can be read as a critique of the Romantic ego.

13. ‘Romantic Irony is the irony of a writer conscious that literature can no longer be simply naive and unreflective but must present itself as conscious of its contradictory, ambivalent nature’ (Muecke). Discuss and compare any two works in the light of this definition.

14. In 1843 Heine described himself as Romanticism’s ‘letzter Dichter’. In what sense is this true, and could the same label be attached to Byron?

15. Todorov in The Fantastic defined fantastic writing as one in which ‘the text must oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural and a supernatural explanation of the events described’. Compare two texts that are illuminated by this definition.