219 Bryan Hall
University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400121
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4121
(434) 924-7105 Fax: (434) 924-1478
Overview From Geoffrey Chaucer’s bawdy Wife of Bath to James Joyce’s stately, plump Buck Mulligan, from Elizabeth Bishop’s “manmoth” to Toni Morrison’s Milkman, the study of imaginative literature is justified not only by the greatness of individual works but also by the insights such works give into the origins of cultures, individuals, and modes of perception. Students study literary achievement both in its own terms and in the context of the many cultural traditions that co-exist under the word English (African-American, feminist, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, for example). With one of the most distinguished faculties in the country, the department provides a great multiplicity of approaches to English and American literature, offering courses not only in the major literary periods, but in particular genres (novel, lyric, epic, comedy), in individual authors, in comparative literature, in literary theory, and in such specialized areas as linguistics, film, and folklore. The writing program includes courses in poetry and fiction writing, as well as writing studies, academic and professional writing, and journalism.
Faculty English majors have access to a large and varied group of internationally renowned experts engaged in exploring different aspects of literature. The number of publications, grants, and fellowships of the faculty constitutes one of the most impressive compilations of any department in the country. The department has never tried to concentrate on any one area of literature or on a single critical orientation. Rather, the department has gathered a lively diversity of professors with strengths in every facet of literary endeavor. In addition to those who concentrate their study in historical periods from medieval to modern, the faculty also contains folklore specialists, linguistic specialists, film critics, psychoanalytic critics, biographers, philosophers of the theory of criticism, and specialists in the relation of literature to culture. For those who wish to develop special skills in writing, the faculty includes practicing journalists, fiction writers, and poets, some of whose awards include the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and membership in the Academy of Arts and Letters.
Since there is a large faculty, the student-faculty ratio in the department is low, at approximately 8:1. In many cases, students who demonstrate initiative and potential may work on an independent study basis with a faculty member. This mentor relationship can prove to be invaluable in developing research skills.
Students With over 500 majors, English is one of the largest departments at the University. This is in part due to the outstanding reputation the department enjoys around the country and around the world. It is also due to the exceptionally varied offerings of the department.
Students begin their study of English with an introductory seminar (any ENLT course with an “M” after it, i.e., ENLT 226M, 224M, 201M). These are limited to twenty-two students and they focus on fundamental skills of critical reading and writing. Majors then move on to upper-level survey courses and advanced seminars. The 300-level survey courses tend to be lectures covering broad topics (e.g., American Literature before 1865; Literature of the Renaissance); their enrollments range from under 40 to over 200. Very large lecture courses are supplemented by discussion sections, which are limited to twenty students and led by Ph.D. candidates in the department. Advanced (400-level) seminars are limited to twenty students. All 300- and 400-level courses are taught by faculty.
Students taking courses in the department learn to write effectively and clearly, to think critically and analytically, and to question the works and the world around them. Students are prepared to communicate in a world in which competing discourses proliferate and grow more complex daily.The skills that majors learn are applicable to virtually any future career choice, although many students use English as preparation for graduate work. Approximately 60 percent of the students who major in English go on to professional or graduate school. Many enter law school, often at top ten programs. Others use English as solid preparation for business school, and an increasingly large number are using it as a humanistic preparation for medicine. A significant number of undergraduate majors go on to study English either in Ph.D. or in M.F.A. programs. Those who do not pursue graduate school find the study of English an excellent preparation for government service, business careers, international agencies, and secondary school teaching.