Yale Alumni College Fall 2015 - NYC Gordon Turnbull

Fiction, the Monstrous, and the Limits of the Human

Gordon Turnbull ’86 Ph.D., Yale Boswell Editions

Mondays, October 5 – November 9, 4:20 - 5:50 pm

Location: Yale Club of New York City, 50 Vanderbilt Ave, New York, NY 10017

Course Description:

From classical antiquity's tales of gods and monsters, to Eurocentric medieval romance fantasies of cultural conquest and defeat, to the modern novel’s reflective engagement with its own processes of strange birth and invention, literature has confronted the contentious questions of the self and 'the other,’ of normative ideology and the ’the alien’ or ’the foreign,’ of humanity and its limits.  Fiction has celebrated its own exemplification of the human capacity for creation even as it has lamented the concurrent human passion for destruction, often expressing an anxiety about its own possible role in the creation of appealing as well as appalling tales of monstrosity.  This course, in two parts, offers a sequence of twelve representative texts, the first six (Fall) as a survey of some canonical literary moments in the developments of these themes, the second six (Spring) as survey of post World War II inheritors of the tradition, written in the shadow of the knowledge that humanity had at last created to the capacity to destroy itself entirely, and may well have entered what some are calling The Anthropocene.

Part One: Fall 2015

William Shakespeare:   The Tempest (1610-11)

Daniel Defoe:                 Robinson Crusoe (1719)

Jonathan Swift:              Gulliver’s Travels (1726)

Mary Shelley:                 Frankenstein (1818)

Oscar Wilde:                   The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Joseph Conrad:              Heart of Darkness (1899)


"Gordon Turnbull is extraordinary.  Would definitely sign up with him again."

"Gordon Turnbull is a superb professor."


Gordon Turnbull is General Editor of the Yale Boswell Editions, one of Yale's outstanding large-scale scholarly editorial enterprises, where he oversees a global editorial team bringing to publication selections of the vast archive of James Boswell's private papers. Boswell had been best-known to literary history for his pioneering biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), but his personal papers — most of which had been suppressed by his descendants and were recovered only in the twentieth century and are now in Yale's Beinecke Library — have brought him renewed fame as a compelling confessional diarist. Turnbull, born and raised in Sydney, is an honors graduate of the Australian National University, in Canberra, and came to Yale for doctoral study as a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar. He taught in the Yale English Department and at Smith College before assuming directorship of the Yale Boswell Editions in 1997. His specialty is the literature of the British eighteenth century, in particular of the Samuel Johnson circle, and he is a former course director of The European Literary Tradition, one of the Yale English Department's main introductory survey courses for literature students. He is the author of numerous scholarly and critical essays on Boswell, Johnson, and their circle, has taught and lectured widely on these authors, and is a featured speaker at the annual Boswell Book Festival held each May in Ayrshire, Scotland. He contributes a regular column, "Yale Boswell Editions Notes," to the twice-yearly Johnsonian News Letter.  His edition of Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763, the first re-editing of this famous diary since 1950, appeared in 2010 in Penguin Classics, and was re-issued in 2013 in a second printing.  He has served as faculty lecturer on a number of Yale Alumni Association educational programs, and is now in his fourth year of teaching courses for the Yale Alumni College.