University of California, Davis
ENL246: Literature and Alchemy
Professor: Tiffany Jo Werth
The seventeenth-century was an exciting time to live. One dynasty died out (theTudors) and another was beheaded (the Stuart); religious reform sparked civil war that pitted fathers against daughters, neighbors against neighbors; scientific speculation refigured nature; the very fabric of knowledge and being—matter and its elements—was split open to new interpretation. In short, all was, as Donne famously remarks, called “into doubt.” This course aims to study the creative energies such turmoil unleashed. Our controlling metaphor will be the form of knowledge known as alchemy, a discipline which aims to transform not only base metals into gold but to figure the spiritual and psychological transformation of the individual. Its principal esoteric and religious symbolism enriches culturally important topics as diverse as early modern eroticism, natural philosophy, early science, spiritual elevation, technological experimentation, and, of course, the poetic imagination.
We will study selected works of seventeenth-century poetry and/or prose, with a particular attention to close reading (literary devices and themes) and range from the metaphysical poems of John Donne to the ‘atomic’ poems of Margaret Cavendish.