Required for the Major

The overall design of the program is simple, and its expectations are clearly defined. This is a program of study designed for students who by the time of their graduation from Middlebury wish to secure a comprehensive background in a full range of major achievements of world literature, as well as an ability to read and appreciate works of literature in at least one language other than English.

To accomplish those ends, each Literary Studies major is required to take a total of 15 courses in literature over the course of four years. No more than six of these courses may be taken within a single department, and the individual courses may be selected from the literature of any language and of any period. They can be wide-ranging surveys or courses devoted to the study of single authors.

The specific selection of courses is entirely up to the student, but in order to fulfill the requirements for the major, he or she will be expected to take the following:

  • Two courses—one historical, one generally theoretical in orientation—selected from the list specified below under the “Summary of Major Requirements”
  • One literature course in a foreign language (including Greek and Latin)—normally 0300-level (though FREN 0210 and the FREN 0200-series will usually qualify); and
  • A Colloquium for majors to be taken during the fall semester of the senior year.

In addition, in conjunction with an independent reading course taken during the fall semester of the senior year, the student will arrange to take a one-hour oral examination in an area of specialization (as described below) that he or she has defined. This oral examination takes place at the end of the fall semester, and it is followed by a five-hour written comprehensive examination at the end of winter term. 
The written examination will require the student to demonstrate a knowledge of a range of major works by the authors listed below. For reasons of practicality, the number of authors from this list whose works students will actually have an opportunity to discuss on the comprehensive examination in any given year will be limited to 12.

Range of Authors

The following current list will give the student a clear sense of the particular range of major authors it is presumed that he or she will be familiar with by senior year:

  • Homer
  • Aeschylus
  • Sophocles
  • Vergil
  • Ovid
  • Lucretius
  • Dante
  • Boccaccio
  • Pirandello
  • Cervantes
  • Tirso de Molina
  • Calderón
  • Lope de Vega
  • Borges
  • Moliere
  • Baudelaire
  • Proust
  • Goethe
  • Kafka
  • Mann
  • Wang Wei
  • Cáo Xuegin
  • Lu-Xùn
  • Gogol
  • Dostoevsky
  • Tolstoy
  • Shakespeare
  • Milton
  • Wordsworth
  • Joyce
  • Emerson
  • Melville
  • Faulkner
  • Murasaki Shikibu
  • Chikamatsu Monzaemon
  • Natsume Soseki

In addition to works by authors whose names appear on this primary list, Literary Studies majors will be urged to deepen their general cultural background by becoming acquainted with the Old and New Testaments (especially Genesis, Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, Matthew, John, Revelation, and the Epistle to the Romans), as well as principal works of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Darwin, Marx, and Freud. A full list of the specific works by these authors included on the current Literary Studies comprehensive reading list is available on the Literary Studies Program website, or from the directors of the program.

Beyond the two historical and theoretical courses required for the program (both of which are counted toward the major), the 0300-level foreign language literature course, the senior year colloquium (LITS 0705) and independent reading course (LITS 0701), and the total of 15 courses, the general, defining requirement for the Literary Studies major is the winter term comprehensive examination (LITS 0700), the overall range of which is specified in the comprehensive reading list. In the process of working toward this general literary education, the student will also be expected to use the independent reading course (LITS 0701) to focus on a group of works chosen to represent an individual specialization in the literature of a particular culture (e.g., German, English, American, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc.), or period (e.g., the eighteenth century, the twentieth century, etc.), or genre (e.g., the novel, the drama, lyric poetry, etc.). The specific authors and the 10 to 12 texts selected by the student for this specialization will be approved by the director in conjunction with two faculty examiners with relevant expertise in the fields represented. This oral examination is the culmination of the independent reading course (LITS 0701) in the fall semester. At the end of the following winter term, there is a five-hour written winter term comprehensive examination based on the reading list. Students qualifying for honors (a B+ average in the major, including the comprehensive examination) will complete a Senior Honors Essay (LITS 0710) in their final semester.

After completing all the specified requirements, the student will be graduated from Middlebury College as a Literary Studies major with a particular area of interest: for example, epic poetry, European drama, Japanese literature, the literature of the nineteenth century, etc. Should the student wish to pursue graduate study, depending on the nature of his or her interests and preparation, the student would be in a good position to do so in such fields as English or American literature, comparative literature, or the literature of a specific foreign language; in addition, he or she would have a secure background for further studies in such fields as law, political philosophy, religion, journalism, publishing, medicine, and cultural and intellectual history.
 Literary Studies majors have gone on to do work in all these areas.

As indicated above, students will be eligible for departmental honors in Literary Studies if in their combined performance in literature courses and on the two parts of the comprehensive examination they have achieved an average grade of B+ or higher. Honors will be awarded on the basis of the overall grade average in the major, performance on the comprehensive examination, and a senior honors essay of 30-40 pages to be completed during the spring semester of the senior year (this project counts as one course). A one-hour oral examination on the content and implications of this honors essay is also required, and this examination will be conducted by two faculty members with particular expertise in the fields represented.

Summary of Major Requirements

Total of 15 courses (no more than six in any one department).

(1) Two courses selected from the historical and theoretical courses listed below, one from each category, as currently offered. (With the permission of the director, alternative courses may be substituted for those specified here.)


  • CLAS 0150 Greek and Roman Epic
  • CLAS 0152 Greek Tragedy
  • RELI 0180 Introduction to Biblical Literature
  • PSCI 0101 Introduction to Political Science


  • ENAM 0205 Contemporary Literary Theory

(2) One course in literature in a foreign language (normally 0300 level, but FREN 0201 and FREN 0220 series would usually qualify).

(3) At least four literature courses, but no more than six, to be taken within a single department. (Courses in language instruction may not be counted toward this requirement.)

(4) Independent Reading Course (LITS 0701) in Area of Specialization (by genre, period, theme, or national literature), an area of particular interest  defined by the student in consultation with the director. A one-hour oral examination, to be taken in the fall semester before the winter term written comprehensive examination in the senior year, is devoted to this area of special interest. The 10 to12 texts required for this examination will be chosen by the student in conjunction with the director and two faculty examiners with appropriate backgrounds in the fields represented.

(5) Senior Colloquium for majors (LITS 0705, open to non-majors if space is available), focused on a range of works on the comprehensive reading list.

(6) Senior Comprehensive Examination (LITS 0700) in preparation for the written comprehensive examination. Students engaged in such preparation arrange  to meet with one another over the course of winter term, and often solicit faculty participation in discussions of individual texts they have chosen to work on as a group.

(7) Written Comprehensive Examination (LITS 0700) (on works that appear on the Literary Studies comprehensive reading list), taken at the end of winter term of the senior year. As indicated, this five-hour written examination represents the second part of the comprehensive requirement, the oral specialization examination in LITS 0701 being the first.

(8) Students achieving an average grade of B+ or higher in the program will be eligible for honors. Honors will be awarded on the basis of the overall grade average in courses in the major, performance on the comprehensive examination, and a senior honors essay of 30-40 pages, to be completed (for one course credit) during the spring semester of the senior year; a one-hour oral examination on the content of this essay is administered by two faculty examiners with expertise in the field of investigation represented.

Please Note: Any literature course in the Middlebury College curriculum (and in approved programs abroad or at other U.S. institutions) may be used to fulfill the requirements in the Program in Literary Studies. Hence, in addition to the specific LITS course descriptions indicated below, students majoring in Literary Studies as well as non-majors with an interest in literature are urged to read through the entire literature offering by various departments (including language departments) to secure a full sense of the range of courses available in any academic year.