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ENGL131 Controversial Classics

A study of literary classics that have attracted controversy for reasons including political content; issues of morality/obscenity; transgressing conventions of form; polemical works; questions of authorial identity and authenticity; controversies over prizes and literary merit.

ENGL 131: Controversial Classics explores how literature engages debates over art, religion, sexuality, morality, politics, race, gender, drugs, censorship, and more, while introducing you to some of the great works of English literature from Nabokov's Lolita to Sylvia Plath's Ariel. The paper also equips you with the skills to take your own stand on these debates by exploring classic texts that continue to divide their readers.

Paper title Controversial Classics
Paper code ENGL131
Subject English
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period Second Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $868.95
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $3,656.70

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Schedule C
Arts and Music
There are no prerequisites for this paper, which develops skills in communication, critical thinking, and ethics relevant to students specialising in a wide range of disciplines.
Associate Professor Chris Prentice
Teaching staff
Convener: Associate Professor Chris Prentice
Lecturers: Associate Professor Jacob Edmond, Professor Peter Kuch, Professor Chris Ackerley, Dr Simone Drichel
Teaching Arrangements
Two 1-hour lectures per week
A 1-hour tutorial in selected weeks.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Paper Structure
Paper Structure (indicative only)
Teaching schedule: Weeks 1-5
  • "You bastard, I'm through": Controversies in Mid-Twentieth-Century Poetry
    • Focus texts: Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Sylvia Plath's Ariel, James K. Baxter's "Small Ode on Mixed Flatting"
Weeks 6-9
  • Dangerous Aesthetes
    • Focus texts: Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita
Weeks 10-13
  • Maori Bashing or Literary Classic? Controversies in Aotearoa/New Zealand
    • Focus texts: Keri Hulme's The Bone People; Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors
  • Course Reader, available from the Print Shop (includes James K. Baxter's "Small Ode on Mixed Flatting" and ancillary materials for each topic)
  • Allen Ginsberg, Howl (City Lights)
  • Sylvia Plath, Ariel (Faber or Harper Perennial) [but not Ariel: The Restored Edition]
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin Classics)
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (Penguin)
  • Alan Duff, Once Were Warriors (Vintage / Random House NZ); Keri Hulme, The Bone People (Picador)
Learning Outcomes
  • Students will gain exposure to a range of literary texts and contexts and the ability to read them closely and with insight
  • Students will gain the ability to judge and assess literary controversies, to understand the reasons for them and to make informed judgements about them
  • Students will learn to reflect critically on how arguments about literary and artistic value relate to broader social, political, religious and ethical values and on how these arguments and values have changed over time
  • Students will learn to develop a sustained argument, supported by textual and contextual evidence, about literary texts and controversies, both orally and in written form, in groups and individually
  • Students will develop skills in editing and assessing their own writing
  • Students will gain basic research skills through an essay assignment requiring them to investigate primary and secondary materials about a particular controversy.

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Second Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Monday 14:00-14:50 28-34, 36-41
Wednesday 15:00-15:50 28-34, 36-41


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
T1 Wednesday 16:00-16:50 29, 31-32, 34, 36-40
T2 Thursday 10:00-10:50 29, 31-32, 34, 36-40
T3 Thursday 11:00-11:50 29, 31-32, 34, 36-40
T4 Thursday 14:00-14:50 29, 31-32, 34, 36-40
T5 Friday 11:00-11:50 29, 31-32, 34, 36-40