The Content, Thoroughness, and Tone of the Prospectus

ENGL 4887: The British Romantics

A Model Prospectus

Below is a prospectus submitted by a student in an ENGL 4887 some time ago. Notice how closely it follows the instructions for this assignment. It’s a memo addressed to me that thoughtfully and carefully explains the proposed topic, outlines what the student does and doesn’t know about the subject, carefully considers which of the sources uncovered in the lit. search are likely to be helpful (and how they might be helpful), reflects upon the key issues that the topic and the lit. search suggest will be necessary to include in the final paper, and then puts forth a general plan for how to organize those issues. All of that and the student has a sense of humor and speaks in her own voice!
To:  Scott A. Leonard
From: Mary Wollstonecraft
RE: Prospectus
5 November 2005
I will examine the key features of Gothicism in order to gain a deeper understanding of several Romantic poets.  The first of my research questions is “what is gothic?”  Related to this question—I think—is the question “what is the sublime?”  Once I gain an understanding of the Gothic and the Sublime, I can then apply that to the works of the Romantic poets.  At the moment, my plan is to focus my study on Byron’s Manfred, the “mystery poems” of Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel), and Percy Shelley’s earlier works (perhaps Alastor).
I know very little about any of the above—other than what has been mentioned in class.  So, I think my paper should begin with a history of Gothicism and some sort of definition of the Sublime—connecting the two if they can, in fact, be connected!  From what I’m seeing so far in my research, I’ll probably use material from the works of Ann Radcliffe and Horace Walpole (especially the latter’s Castle of Ontranto) to illustrate the Gothic part of this first section.  Burke’s definition of the need for mystery and how darkness, mystery, etc. are “sublime in the extreme” seem to connect to my emotional sense of what Gothicism is, so maybe I’ll use this essay as well.
However, as the saying goes, the only thing I can be sure I know is that I don’t know.  In fact, the more information I accumulate on the subject, the more questions and uncertainties spring to mind.  So, I got on the Web, looking for information on the Gothic in relation to the poets Coleridge, Shelley, and Byron,.  So far, I have unearthed several resources that I believe will be key in this purpose.  The first, The Dark Angel: Gothic Elements in Shelley’s Works, seems to be (from my limited reading) one of the chief texts I will use in exploring the Gothic in Shelley.  This text focuses not only on the Gothic in the poet’s early works (the names of which, as my research leads me to believe, are Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, or, the Rosicrucian), but it also discusses those same elements and their development in his later poems. 
Several other resources look promising as well; I am, however, uncertain of the availability of several of these.  They include several articles from the periodical Gothic Studies, including “Romantic and Enlightened Eyes in the Gothic Novels of Percy Bysshe Shelley” and “‘Beyond the Realms of Dream’: Gothic, Romantic and Poetic identity in Shelley’s Alastor.”
I hope to find and use the same periodical in relation to my examination of the Gothic in Coleridge, in addition to resources such as “Who’s afraid of the Mastiff Bitch?  Gothic Parody and Original Sin in Christabel.”  Aside from the catchy title, I believe I can use the concept of “gothic parody” in my paper, as the Gothic certainly had an impact on Coleridge if he was parodying it (aside from countless other ways one could find to prove Gothicism’s impact on this particular poet).  Another great title—and promising article is “Bloodsucking Byron,” as well as “Prelude: Byron’s Gothic Heritage,” and “Byron and the Metaphysic of Self-Destruction.”  There are a few more general sources that I think will provide me with the “back-story” on my subject, including Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, and Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation.
There are, of course, large gaps in what I do (and don’t) know about the Gothic in relation to the Romantic poets.  Though somewhat daunting, there are a few questions that might guide me.  For example, what works exactly influenced these authors?  Fortunately, I found a wonderful web-resource devoted to this topic.  “Gothic Literature: What the Romantic Writers Read” (  It lists the poets mentioned here and a few others, having compiled “reading lists” of what literature, according to Douglass Thomson’s research, the Romantic poets may have read.
So, in terms of what issues my paper will need to address, I think defining and giving a bones-only sketch of the Gothic and the Sublime will be the first order of business.  Next, I will probably need to take my three authors one at a time and explain what Gothic works they read (or probably read) and the obvious ways in which Gothicism and theories about the Sublime influenced their writings.  Hopefully, by the end of the three poet sections, I will be able to find a unifying puzzle piece and tie everything together nicely in a concluding section.
So, a thumbnail sketch of my paper would look like this:
1.     What is Gothicicsm?  What is the Sublime?
2.     Coleridge’s Gothic/Sublime Influences and they way he interpreted these themes in his work.
3.     Byron’s Gothic/Sublime Influences and they way he interpreted these themes in his work.
4.     Shelley’s Gothic/Sublime Influences and they way he interpreted these themes in his work.
5. My conclusions—or, hopefully, my amazing original discovery of a unifying theme that will catapult me to fame and fortune!