From Plain Janes to Fierce Femmes: Beauty within literature

Matthew Martinez

What is Beauty Week, and most importantly, why does something like it exist? Beauty Week is a concept that has been implemented for the week of Sept. 26 into paired courses for the English Department and focuses on hidden beauty in different texts from various classes.

Associate Professor of English Jonathan Burton spearheaded implementing the idea of Beauty Week into the curriculum of the English Department’s paired courses. The Whittier English professors had a retreat this summer to talk about the future of the major and the department.  “We wanted it to be something that could easily be woven through any English class,” Burton said. Burton also mentioned other topics, like chaos & order, and walls & borders (an idea inspired by the upcoming election). 

Beauty was ultimately picked because it could conceptually go in many different directions. There are many paths our professors hope to go in with these discussions about beauty, but Burton hopes students will see that this program is not a means to a definitive answer. “I want students to see this not [as] an effort to have the last word on a subject, but instead to have the next word,” Burton said.

Associate Professor of English dAvid pAddy also has many comments on the subject of beauty. pAddy points out that beauty isn’t only a broad topic but is also an old-fashioned norm. “It used to be just a given as something you would talk about in the study of English,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a topic you can avoid in our field.” 

pAddy sees beauty as the unseen core of English. He believes that real education is what we carry out in our hallways and dorms. Unlike other subjects, beauty can be related to a variety of scenarios and helps us to understand different perspectives. pAddy loves entropy and quantum mechanics and brings those subjects into his classes because of the openness of the English major. “To me, [English] is a perfect liberal art, in the way of … bringing all these ideas together,” pAddy said.

Professor of English and Literature Wendy Furman-Adams is also keen on beauty and agrees with pAddy. “English is an octagon with all of these borders with other disciplines. We are the ones who have this aesthetic, emotional, complete experience of whatever that work of literature is about,” she said. 

Furman-Adams explained beauty in relevance to different writers like James Joyce and his obsession with beauty. She also explained Chaucer’s devotion to the idea of beauty. According to Furman-Adams, the period of American Realism and Naturalism tried to turn down the knob on beauty and turn it up on reality; and yet still never escaped beauty due to its pure truthfulness.

To properly define the intricacies of English, Burton said it is simply about the language. While pAddy described the complexities of English through perspective (which proves to be very broad), Furman-Adams had a different outlook. “The more great literature you read and the more beautiful art you look at, then the better you get,” Furman-Adams said. “You begin to resemble it by looking at it.”

Subjects like biology or math have intricacies that are mostly based off formulas or calculations, but English has its own conceptualization. Beauty Week is a big step in realizing how the English department is relaying this lesson of perspective and critical thinking and showing the students how literature can change your ideas towards different concepts. There is a lot to talk and think about in this coming week, and hopefully, we’ll have our own ideas of what beauty means to us individually.