Four years of pouring over epics, dissecting lyric poems and delving into novels will come to a close during the next two weeks for this year’s senior English majors at the University of Dallas. The seniors are presenting their capstone projects, commonly referred to as “Senior Novel,” as part of the course Literary Study II: Prose Fiction, which is being taught by Dr. Brett Bourbon. A schedule of the presentations taking place in the Gorman Faculty Lounge can be found posted outside of Dr. Bourbon’s office.
As a freshman English major only just embarking upon my literary journey at UD, I took advantage of the opportunity to see what I have to fear by listening to two young women defend their theses.
Teresa Fougerousse presented her paper, titled “The Role of Epiphanies in Joyce’s Portrait,” on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Fougerousse argued that protagonist Stephen Dedalus’ visions of Jesuit priests and a beautiful young woman can only be understood when interpreted in both a serious and an ironic manner. Stephen’s epiphanies, according to Fougerousse, bind him to a purely aesthetic understanding of beauty and prevent him from becoming a true artist. Ironically, the true artist in the novel is the narrator, who is able to see beyond aesthetic appearances to universal truths.
Kathleen Finders, double majoring in English and Politics, combined these two disciplines in her thesis, titled “Hobbes’ Definitions of Power and Happiness in Jane Eyre.” Finders demonstrated how the characters in Charlotte Brontë’s novel act as individual Hobbesian states that pursue their own interests, and how the eponymous character strikes a balance between the Hobbesian system of pursuing earthly pleasure and the Christian system of pursuing eternal life.
After reading their papers, the presenters were questioned by a faculty panel consisting of Drs. Andrew Moran, Gerard Wegemer and Brett Bourbon. Moran has been in the students’ shoes before; he presented his senior thesis on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as an undergraduate at UD. Moran believes the project is important because it builds upon the research skills gained in the Junior Poet project and gives students the confidence to assert their own argument in response to other critics. Presenting the argument publicly allows the students to “contribute something to the intellectual life of the university,” Moran said.
After listening to the presentations and speaking with several other seniors about their projects, I can say that Senior Novel certainly achieves its goal of engaging students in a conversation with other scholars about a major novel in English. Not only do the seniors know their novels inside and out, but they have also delved into scholarly criticism about the novel, incorporated the views of others into their papers, and used them to synthesize their own original ideas. It would be well worth your time to stop by the Gorman Faculty Lounge this week and hear these truly remarkable feats of rhetoric and literary criticism, presented by your very own peers.