This seminar will offer a close examination of the following works by some of America’s finest modern satirists: Mark Twain’s extravagant burlesque of chivalry A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889); Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt (1922), a hilarious satire of conformism, consumerism and boosterism in 1920s America; and a selection of caustic essays on literature and politics by “The Sage of Baltimore”: the iconoclastic and enormously influential editor, social critic and lexicographer H. L. Mencken (1880–1956), one of the most original prose stylists of the twentieth century.

By the end of the seminar, students will have gained an understanding of the various political and cultural contexts in which these works were composed, as well as an insight into the growth and characteristics of satire as a genre. Students will also be introduced to a variety of narrative techniques, and they will acquire the critical vocabulary required for the analysis of the above texts, notably through close reading of them.

The end-of-term research paper will offer students an opportunity to engage with both the primary texts and secondary criticism.



Required texts:


– Lewis, Sinclair. Babbitt (Vintage, 2006, ISBN 9780099264712, CHF 18.50; available at Librophoros bookshop, Rue de Rome 1, 1700 Fribourg). Please use this edition.


– Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780199540587, CHF 14.90, available at Librophoros bookshop). Please use this edition.


– Mencken, H[enry] L[ouis]: a selection of his essays will be posted on moodle.


Credit requirements are regular attendance, active participation, one class presentation, and an end-of-term paper of 3,000 words.


The maximum number of students for this seminar is thirty; only the first thirty applicants will be accepted.