Reading & Composition

Reading & Composition

Twinned Loneliness: Writing Alongside Anna Karenina
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Madeleine Kresin
8-9 am
89 Dwinelle

What does it mean to be the protagonist of a novel whose title bears your name? What loneliness occurs when another protagonist emerges, dividing the time in which you get to appear on the page by half? In this course, we will spend the semester reading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina alongside several short texts of various genres that speak, in one way or another, to this central problem of division and loneliness. While popular opinion generally holds up this novel as a paragon of stable 19th-century Russian Realism, we will explore together the uncanny, fantastic, and modernist impulses which pull apart any sense of stability in the novel’s world.

This course will be structured primarily around the practice of close-reading as it leads to analytic thinking, as expressed in critical writing. As this novel is quite long, it is essential that you keep on top of the reading. In order to best help you hold yourself and your classmates accountable for the readings, you will keep a ‘reading journal’ in which you note down details and passages you enjoyed, found strange or puzzling, or simply wish to discuss in class, as well as critical questions that arise from these details. Every other week, you will write a 1-2 page piece in which you explore the possible interpretations of one of your critical questions through textual analysis. Your reading and writing will thus be inextricably linked with one another, ensuring that the prospect of writing essays emerges not as an insurmountable task but rather a natural extension of the work you have already been doing.  Our class discussions will revolve around that which we glean from each reading, while writing workshops will help focus analytic writing skills, sharpening these gleanings into the more rigorously academic work of argument-making. As an R1B, this course will help you realize your writing prowess. As with any seemingly herculean task, you will not be alone. Alongside meetings with your instructors, you will also work with your classmates to revise and strengthen your papers. This course will welcome both the reader’s immediate impressions and the development of these impressions into original claims about the text. As is suitable for a class devoted to a famously controversial text, all ideas are welcome, and all ideas will be rigorously explored and problematized.


Course Process & Requirements

Your participation in class is of the utmost importance. However, there are many ways to participate: speaking in class discussion, in small groups, in meetings with your instructors, and in bCourse discussion threads. The aim of this class is to encourage rather than penalize; there are as many ways to learn as there are to write or think. Our joint task is to determine the best way for you to learn, think, and write in the class.


Per the grading contract, you are entitled to three non-participatory days. Each absence after these three days will count against your grade. If you must miss class but do not wish to use up one of your non-participatory days, let me know before class starts. I will send a make-up assignment for you to complete and the absence will not be counted.



  • You will keep a reading journal as you read, in which you note down 2-3 quotations that interest you and a critical question that arose from these quotations. You will write an entry for each day’s reading, but will only submit them for a check at the end of each book of the novel. Thus, while it is essential that you keep on top of the reading, there is also a little room for you to catch up on the reading journal if you need extra time.
  • Every other week, you will submit a 1-2 page textual analysis of a quote that prompted a critical question you posed in your past journal entries. This response will be due at midnight every other Friday.
  • From your journal entries and responses, you will develop a prompt for an analytical paper. You will submit a first draft of 4-5 pages, which you will then workshop with your classmates and meet with me one-on-one in order to revise into a 7-8 page second draft. If you wish, you may revise the second draft again and write a 9-10 page draft as an optional labor item in the grading contract.
  • From your journal entries and responses, you will also embark on a research project. You will identify a topic which has sustained your interest throughout the reading (what question do you keep asking? What kind of passage or quote do you keep noting down?) and research it. As with the analytical paper, you will first write a pre-write, then a first draft, and then a second draft of the paper, working with your peers and with me each step of the way of the revision process.


Optional Labor Items

In order to raise your grade, you may choose to complete any of the following optional assignments. Each assignment, when completed, raises your grade by ⅓ of a letter grade (i.e. from B- to B).

  • Complete a third draft of your analytical essay. This draft will be 1-2 pages longer than the second, and include substantive revision. In order to complete this assignment, please let me know no later than Week 8.
  • Write a 1-2 page response to a scholarly article. This response should both summarize the article’s argument and engage with it from your own perspective as a reader and writer.
  • Create a short adaptation of a scene from the novel. This adaptation can take the form of a play, a video, or any media other than text. There will be time at the end of the semester for you to perform or show your adaptation. We would love to see it!
  • Write a review of an existing adaptation of the novel. This review, of 1-2 pages, should make clear your interpretation of the adaptation. What worked in the adaptation and what did not? What choices did the director make to distinguish the adaptation from the novel?
  • Schedule and attend three tutoring appointments through the Art of Writing tutoring program. You can schedule these appointments at any time during the writing process. From these appointments, you will write either three short individual reflections or one longer (1-2 page) reflection about what you learned from the tutor.


Course Texts

Our readings will include, alongside Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, selections from Natalia Ginzburg, W.H. Auden, Louise Gluck, Henrik Ibsen, and others to come.