Here are 6 sample questions based on section 1C of the comprehensive exam. You should time yourself for 90 minutes, and type your essay into Microsoft Word to best replicate the testing environment. Remember, only choose 1 question to answer.
Part1-C (90 Minutes)
This essay is to focus on a single author, period, movement, or problem and is meant to test students’ historical sense through their capacity for making intelligent generalizations about authors, periods, literary movements, and, where appropriate, interconnections among them. Use as examples at least three literary works in framing your responses. Choose one from the six topics below.
2.) Fiction is a project of making new, both of the everyday world and of the enduring themes that literature has hovered around. In an essay using three texts from one author, period, or movement discuss how our experience of life or our experience as readers is made anew through these works. Focus on a concrete element of the text such as how its structure organizes consciousness and experience or how the narrative alters the readers perceptions and expectations, etc.
3.) 19th century decadence is an aesthetic category in its own right. “ Decadence is a subject and a way of approaching that subject.” David Weir has noted that if one accepts the thematics of decadence you must accept the poetics of decadence as well. One implies the other. Themes of artificiality and decay influence style and structure so that linguistic effects are emphasized. Discuss the influence of decadent aesthetics in three works by the same author, of the same period, or in a single genre.
4.) The plays of the early modern period reflect attitudes toward gender and identity, the nature of power in marriage, culturally sanctioned behavior between men and women, sexual behavior and homosexuality. The theatre was seen as having a strong influence. Explore these issues including the notion of androgyny in three works by the same author, of the same period, or in a single genre.
5) In The Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Sedgwick discusses the prevalence of the “bachelor hero” in Victorian literature, and argues that this figure “does not strike me as a portrait of an exclusively Victorian type” but that “generically, the self-centered and at the same time self-marginalizing bachelor he represents” is ubiquitous throughout literature. Choose three works by one author, or three works of the same period, or three works in a single genre and write an essay analyzing the deployment of the “bachelor hero,” or the subversion of this literary trope.
6) Lawrence Principe has argued that “The professionalization of science is perhaps the most significant scientific development of the eighteenth century.” Previous to this division, the study of science, or natural philosophy, was functionally inextricable from the pursuits of the humanists and theologians. Considering this as a recent development, we are reminded that the there was not always a dichotomy between science and literature. Write an essay on three works by one author, or three works of the same period, or three works in a single genre, which blur the distinction between science and literature.