Comprehensive Exam for the English MA: Literary Studies Emphasis
The comprehensive examination for the M.A. in English with Emphasis on Literary Studies is administered by the candidate's examining committee. Traditionally, the examining committee consists of three members from the Department of English and one related field/minor examiner from outside the department. (Candidates listing linguistics as an internal related field or minor should familiarize themselves with the description of "Linguistics as an Internal Related Field or Designated Minor.")
The comprehensive examination consists of a six-hour written portion and a one-hour oral component.
The written portion of the exam is a three-part test taken on two days.
Part One: Primary Text with Selected Secondary Works
The first part, lasting two hours, is based on an approved text (a novel, a play, a group of poems or short stories). The text must be selected and the examining committee approve it at least four weeks before the examination. A list of 5-8 secondary works read in conjunction with the preparation of the text is to be submitted at the same time; complete bibliographical information about the works should be included. The text and notes about the secondary works may be used during this part of the examination. The candidate is expected to be familiar with and to indicate references made to secondary works by citing the authors and titles. The student should be able to answer questions appropriate to the literary form dealt with (e.g., questions about the plot, theme, characterization, point of view and style of a novel), and formulate his/her own critical assessment.
Part Two: General Reading Lists
The second part, lasting three hours, is based on a reading list approved by the examining committee. The list must be approved at least four weeks prior to the examination; ideally, reading lists should be prepared by the candidate gradually and more or less continuously as courses are completed. The reading list covers the range of English and American literature.
In devising the list, the student should observe the following:
- The list should consist of whole works, substantial parts of whole works, or groups of works by 25-30 authors.
- The authors should be chosen from
the main literary periods, with some representation for each one, for example:
- Old and Middle English
- Restoration and 18th Century
- 19th Century British
- 19th Century American
- 20th Century British
- 20th Century American
Roughly speaking, at least a third and at most a half of the authors should be in American literature.
In the reading list part of the examination there will be some choice of questions. They will assume the student's general familiarity with major periods, movements, and styles as well as detailed knowledge of the chosen works. The reading list part of the examination will also attempt to be reasonably representative of genres.
Part Three: Related Field or Minor
The third part, lasting an hour, is based on the student's work in the related field or minor and is based on a reading list drawn up by the candidate in consultation with the related field representative on the examination committee. Texts and notes are not allowed for the second and third parts of the examination unless an individual's committee decrees otherwise.
All parts of the written examination will test the candidate's writing ability.
On the fourth working day after successful completion of the written exam portion, the candidate will meet with the examining committee for the one-hour oral component (see "Principles and Procedures For Conducting the Oral Component of the Comprehensive Exam").
Sample of a Reading List for the Primary Text, with Criticism Section
Paul Laurence Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods (1901)
- Baker, Houston, A., Jr. "The 'Limitless' Freedom of Myth: Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods and the Criticism of Afro-American Literature." The American Self: Myth, Ideology, and Popular Culture. Ed. Sam B. Girgus. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1981. 124-143.
- Brezina, Jennifer Costello. "Public Women, Private Acts: Gender and Theater in Turn-of-the-Century American Novels." Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930. Ed. Monika M. Elbert. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2000. 225-42
- Candela, Gregory L. "We Wear the Mask: Irony in Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods." American Literature 48 (1976): 60-72.
- De Santis, Christopher C. "The Dangerous Marrow of Southern Tradition: Charles W. Chesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the Paternalist Ethos at the Turn of the Century." Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 38.2 (2000): 79-97.
- Inge, Casey. "Family Functions: Disciplinary Discourses and (De)Constructions of the 'Family' in The Sport of the Gods." Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters 20.1 (1997): 226-42.
- Revell, Peter. Paul Laurence Dunbar. Boston: Twayne, 1979.
- Rodgers, Lawrence R. "Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods: The Doubly Conscious World of Plantation Fiction, Migration, and Ascent." American Literary Realism 24.3 (1992): 42-57.
Samples of Reading Lists for the Second Part of the Exam
Old and Middle English
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
- Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde, Books III and IV.
- More: Utopia
- Shakespeare: Othello
- Jonson: "To Penhurst", "On my first Daughter", "On my first Sonne", "Epitaph on S. P.", "Come my Celia", "Drink to me only", "Queen and Huntress", "Still to be neat".
- Sidney: Defence of Poesie
- Milton: "L'Allegro and Il Penseroso", "Lycidas".
Restoration and the 18th Century
- Dryden: MacFlecknoe
- Pope: Essay on Man
- Swift: Tale of a Tub
- Richardson: Clarissa, abridged
- Austen: Emma
- Shelley: Prometheus Unbound
- Wordsworth: Preface to Lyrical Ballads
- Keats: "The Eve of St. Agnes", "Hyperion", "The Fall of Hyperion", "Lamia", "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode to a Nightingale", "To Autumn".
- Hardy: Tess of the D'Urbervilles
19th Century American
- 17. Thoreau: Walden
- Hawthorne: Scarlet Letter
- Melville: Moby-Dick
- Whitman: Leaves of Grass, 1855 edition
- James: The Ambassadors
20th Century British
- Conrad: Nostromo
- Shaw: Major Barbara
- Woolf: To the Lighthouse
20th Century American
- Stein: Three Lives
- Eliot: The Waste Land
- Ellison: Invisible Man
- Miller: Death of a Salesman
- Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
- Chaucer. The Book of the Duchess; from The Canterbury Tales: "The General Prologue", "The Pardoner's Tale and Prologue", "The Prioresse's Tale and Prologue".
- Sidney. The Defence of Poesie; Song from Arcadia: "Ring out your bells, let mourning shows be spread"; From Astrophel and Stella: sonnets #1, #31, #39.
- Shakespeare. Hamlet; Macbeth; sonnets #65, #73, #146.
- Webster. The White Devil.
- Milton. Areopagitica; "Lycidas", "L'Allegro", "Il Penseroso".
- Donne. "The Good-Morrow", "Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward", "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", "The Extasie".
- Swift. A Modest Proposal; An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity.
- Pope. "An Essay on Criticism"; "Essay on Man".
- Austen. Emma
- Shelley. Defense of Poetry: "Ode to the West Wind", "Ozymandias".
- Keats. "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode on Melancholy", "Ode to a Nightingale", "To Autumn"; Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds ("Mansion of Many Apartments").
- Mill. On Liberty.
- Dickens. Hard Times.
- Hopkins. "The Windhover", "Pied Beauty", "God's Grandeur", "The Caged Skylark".
- Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
- Yeats. "The Second Coming", "Byzantium", "Sailing to Byzantium", "Leda and the Swan", "The Lake Isle of Innisfree".
- Shaw. Man and Superman
- Woolf. A Room of One's Own; "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown".
- Thoreau. Walden
- Hawthorne.The Scarlet Letter.
- James. "The Art of Fiction"; What Maisie Knew.
- Dickinson. "Further in Summer than the Birds", "I heard a Fly buzz", "After great pain, a formal feeling comes", "The Soul selects her own Society", "Because I could not stop for Death".
- Dreiser. Sister Carrie.
- Eliot, Four Quartets
- Miller, Death of a Salesman
- Morrison, Beloved