University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

First-Year Experience

World Literature


WLIT 017 B - Nature in German Literature

Instructor: Dennis Mahoney

Beginning with a discussion of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's first novel The Sufferings of Young Werther (1774/1787), the prototypical depiction of the modern individual alternately infatuated by and at odds with the world around him, and concluding with The Ring of the Nibelungs (1876), Richard Wagner's four-part music drama that begins with the forging of a ring of power and ends with world conflagration, we will be exploring issues of sustainability during a time period when human beings realized that they were capable of changing the world – for better or for worse. Other works to be read and discussed are Novalis’s experimental novel Henry von Ofterdingen (1801) and Goethe's Faust drama (1808/1833) featuring its title character's wager with the devil. Finally, this course is also designed to serve as a point of reference for issues raised in Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, which has been assigned as the First-Year Summer Reading for the Class of 2020. To this purpose, we will consider how our readings and viewings of stagings of Faust and the Ring cycle resonate with contemporary concerns and social practices in both the United States and German-speaking countries. This course is ideal for students who might be considering German for their major or minor. To this purpose, throughout the semester we will pay particular attention to studying how one goes about interpreting literature and (music) drama within a historical context. Regardless of your major or minor, we will use our writing assignments and class discussions as a medium for critical thinking and personal exploration on issues related to sustainability, while striving to build a learning community inside and outside the classroom.

Requirements Satisfied: Literature and Writing and Information Literacy


WLIT 018 A - Necropolis: St. Petersburg and the Cultural Legacy of a City Built on Bones

Instructor: Kathleen Scollins

Can a city save a whole nation? Can it kill its own inhabitants? The city of St. Petersburg, founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, represented the crowning piece in the tsar’s ambitious plan to radically reorient Russian culture toward Europe. To those who supported Peter’s westernizing vision, Petersburg became an emblem of revolution and progress—but to those who read in his pivot toward Europe the destruction of ancient Russian culture, the city was seen as a site of corruption and death. In the early 19th century, there emerged a rich artistic tradition devoted to an exploration of Petersburg’s dualities (natural/artificial, triumphant/doomed, paradise/inferno), and the literary city became an important locus of debate over the central issue of Russian national identity: does modern Russia belong to East or West (or neither)? How does the image of Petersburg, conceived alternately as Russia’s “window to the West” and a city “built on bones,” embody this complex question in the Russian imagination? This course will examine the contradictory myths and ideas that have surrounded Petersburg from its very inception, and the light they shed back on Russian culture as a whole. We will explore the many images of Petersburg over its 300-year history—primarily through its rich literary heritage, but with a number of forays into the city’s maps, legends, visual art, music, and film.

Requirements Satisfied: Literature and Writing and Information Literacy