RUSS 260 A: Underworlds

Winter 2022
MTWTh 12:30pm - 1:20pm / SMI 304
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
C LIT 250 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):


RUSS 260/C LIT 250 A

MTWTh 12:30-1:20

Underworlds are both real and metaphoric: subways and coalmines, Hades and Hell, criminal subcultures, political undergrounds, horror-movie basements and windowless office cubicles. Stories of these underworlds address the most profound questions of our lives: what happens after we die?  Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are our responsibilities to our world, each other, ourselves? This class looks at art and literature from Russia, the US, and Europe, set in many different underworlds, which shape our perceptions of the world around us today. You will learn to recognize the mythic underworld and understand how it functions not only in art, but in your own life.  


RUSS 260 /C LIT 250 A

MTWTh 12:30-1:20

Instructor: Dr. Henry

office: A211 Padelford Hall.


office hours: Thursdays, 4-6, on Zoom

Meeting ID: 916 6862 5608

Teaching assistant: Stef Vukadinovic

office: Padelford A-210G


office hours: Mondays, 8.30-10.30, on Zoom

Meeting ID: 971 0644 4263


Final Projects Due

Thursday, March 17th, by noon 

Required reading:

We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, trans. by Natasha S. Randall. Modern Library paperback,

            New York, 2006. ISBN 0-8129-7462 X ($14.00)

The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Constance Garnett, Dover

            Publications, Mineola NY, 2004. ISBN 978-0-486-43409-4 ($3.44, from

            Amazon; Kindle edition $0.99)

Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination, by

            Rosalind Williams, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2008 (2nd edition). ISBN 978-0-262-

            73190-4 (Retail $21.95, $13.91 at Amazon)

Coursepack is on Canvas, through your MyUW page; books are available at UW Bookstore

NOTE PLEASE: Readings must be done before class, as they will be discussed on the day that they appear on the syllabus. Assignments are due on the days that they appear on the syllabus, and must be uploaded to Canvas by the deadline indicated in the syllabus.

 Week 1: Initiation

Jan 3 Introductions

Jan 4 So You Want to Visit the Underworld

Jan 5 Folktales: “Three Kingdoms” (Три царства – Медное, серебряное, и золотое, 128) and “Vasilisa the Beautiful” (Василиса Прекрасная, 104) (CANVAS)

Jan 6 Reading: “The Gods of the Underworld,” from Greek Myths, 119-123, translated and edited by Robert Graves. (CANVAS)

Asssignment 1:

  • Why do human beings believe in an afterlife?
  • Especially when we can neither verify nor disprove its existence?
  • Do you believe in an afterlife?

Week 2 Initiation

Jan 10 Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940), A Country Doctor’s Notebook   (Записки юного врача, 1925-27) “The Steel Windpipe” (Стальное горло), “Baptism by Rotation” (Крещение поворотом) (CANVAS)

Jan 11  “The Blizzard” (Вьюга), “Egyptian Darkness” (Тьма египетская)  “The Speckled Rash” (Звездная сыпь) (CANVAS)

Jan 12 Bulgakov,“The Embroidered Towel” (Полотенце с петухом),  “The Vanishing Eye” (Пропавший глаз) (CANVAS)

Jan 13 Bulgakov, “Morphine” (Морфий) (CANVAS)


Week 3 Wisdom


Jan 18 Vergil (70 BCE-19 BCE), The Aeneid Book 6 (29-19 BCE) (CANVAS) 

Jan 19 Meet the Ancestors

Assignment 2:

See Canvas File for Week 3 for specific guidelines, links, and forms for this assignment.

Trace your family history back two generations or more (to your grandparents, more if you can), using the forms provided on Canvas. Include full names, with women’s maiden names if possible; places of birth & death.


You can set up a family tree on (for free!) and include a link with your one-page answer to these questions:

  • If, like Aeneas, you could see and talk with one of your ancestors, who would it be?
  • What would you ask them, or tell them?

Jan 20 Plato, “The Story of Er” from The Republic, 388-97 (CANVAS)


Week 4 Redemption

Jan 24 Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), The House of the Dead (Записки из мертвого дома, 1861), pp. 1-78, Ch. I (Introduction) through VI (The First Month)

Jan 25 Please watch “White Bear” from season two of the Black Mirror series at home, and be prepared to discuss it in class TODAY.

The episode is available at Odegaard on DVD and through Netflix.

Jan 26 Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead, pp. 78-160, Ch. VII (New Acquaintances - Part II, through Ch. II, The Hospital)

Jan 27 Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead, pp. 160-end (Part II, Ch. III, The Hospital - How I Left Prison)

Assignment 3: Reading Quiz on Canvas, House of the Dead



Jan 31 James Tate, “Afterlife.” (CANVAS)

Feb 1 Christian Descent: The Harrowing of Hell and The Descent of the Virgin into Hell (Хождение Богородицы по Мукам)(CANVAS)

Feb 3 Dante’s Inferno: The Graphic Novel  (CANVAS)

Feb 3 The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2150 - 1400 BCE), Books 7, 9, & 10 (CANVAS)


Week 6 The Underworld Within: Depression and Grief

Feb 7 Allie Brosh, (b. 1985) Hyperbole & a Half

Reading: “The God of Cake”:,

“The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas”:

“Wild Animal. Simple Dog Goes for a Joy Ride”

Feb 8 Hyperbole & a Half: Adventures in Depression I & II

Reading on spatial & temporal aspects of depression:

Feb 9 Wristcutters: A Love Story (Goran Dukic, 2007)

Feb 10 Wristcutters


Week 7 Women’s Descent Stories

Feb 14 The Rape of Persephone, from Classical Mythology, by A. R. Moncrieff, and “Prince Danila-Govorila” (Князь Данила-Говорила, 114), (CANVAS)

Feb 15 "Orpheus and Eurydice,” from Classical Mythology and "Inanna (Ishtar)," from Mythology: Voyage of the Hero, David Adams Leeming; “The Descent of Inanna,” translated by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer (CANVAS)

Feb 16 Sarah Ruhl (b. 1974), Eurydice (CANVAS)

Feb 17 Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (b. 1992) “Through the Flash,” from Friday Black (2018)


Written assignment 4:

  • How does Adjei-Brenyah, a male writer, subvert expectations about women’s descent stories in “Through the Flash”?


Students taking the class for writing credit must upload drafts of their final papers by Sunday, February 20th, 10 pm:


Week 8 Modernity


Feb 22 Notes on the Underground, Rosalind Williams, Ch. 1-4

Feb 23 The labyrinth: “Theseus,” from Classical Myths that Live Today and “Heracles” from Mythology: Voyage of the Hero (CANVAS)

Feb 24 Notes on the Underground, Rosalind Williams, Ch. 5-7

Written assignment 5:

  • Upload an image of "artificial infinitude" pasted into a Word doc or PDF
  • Below the image, explain in one paragraph why the image that you selected represents artificial infinitude
  • Assignment must be uploaded by 8 pm, Wednesday, February 23rd, because we’ll be looking at them and discussing them in class on Feb 24th
  • Please do not ask me or Stef what “artificial infinitude” is.
  • If you ask us what “artificial infinitude” is, we’ll know you haven’t done the reading.


Week 9 Modernity

Feb 28 Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters” (О литературе, революции, энтропии и прочем, 1923) (CANVAS)

Mar 1 Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), We (Мы, 1921) Records 1-19, pp. 3-100

Mar 2 We, Records 20-40, pp. 101-203

Assignment 6: Reading quiz on We

Mar 3 What Do We Mean When We Talk About the West? Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893) (CANVAS)


Week 10 The West

Mar 7 No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007) (shown in class)

Mar 8 No Country for Old Men

Mar 9 No Country for Old Men

Mar 10 Final thoughts, discussion of final projects

Written assignment 7:

(Due March 13, 2022)

  • Does Turner’s optimistic and unquestioningly colonialist discussion of the American frontier have any relevance to the Coen brothers’ late 20th century vision of the West?
  • If the Western is a distinctly American version of the underworld, it should offer its travelers what underworlds do: initiation, wisdom, love, redemption, as well as suffering.
  • Does it, though, in No Country for Old Men?
  • If not, does it offer anything in place of the old values?

Written assignments

There are seven assignments that ask you to reflect on the materials that we read.

  • You must do both reading quizzes, and three of the written assignments.
  • Assignment 2 should include a family tree, and 5 should include an image in addition to the written portion of the assignment.
  • Written assignments should be typed, use 12-point font, be double-spaced, and have 1-inch margins  
  • One page only.  About 250 words.
  • Be concise, be direct, and make every word count.
  • Spelling, grammar, and usage errors will have an impact on your grade. You definitely want to read the “forbidden words” document on Canvas.
  • We will not keep circling errors and correcting them after the 2nd paper – points will simply be deducted for repeated errors. One point for each repeated mistake.



Excellent  4.0-3.8

Good  3.7-3.0

Eh.  2.9-2.0

No. Just don’t.


Answers the question(s) posed on syllabus; references multiple works treated in class, offers own original insights

Answers the question(s) posed on the syllabus, with reference to some of the works treated in class

May answer the question(s) posed on syllabus, does not reference works treated in class

Moooostly personal stuff, cause didn’t actually do the reading.


No errors in grammar, spelling, usage. Language is concise, without padding

Minor errors in spelling, grammar, or usage

Many annoying errors in spelling, grammar, and usage

Our hearts brake when you loose site of the purpose of teh assignment. Definately.


Typed, 12 point font, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 1 page only

Typed, 12 point font, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 1 page only

Typed, weird font, 1 ½ spacing, margins too large or too small, too long or too short.

Totally wrote it in a spiral-bound notebook on the bus this morning.


Final project

You must choose one of these two options for your final.  If you are taking the class for W credit, you will need to do a traditional research paper.

Option 1: 5-7 pg. paper

  • The paper should analyze a work of your choosing that deals with underworld themes. It cannot be a work that we have read in class.
  • You can choose to write about almost anything: literature, film, music, visual art, graphic novels, video games, architecture, even sites or activities (“dark” tourism, memorials, cave exploration, “Underground Seattle”) that simulate or resemble an underworld descent, either actual or metaphoric.
  • What qualifies it as an underworld descent story? Does it offer its characters or users what traditional underworlds offer? How does it differ from traditional underworlds?
  • Please be sure to clear the topic with me and/or Stef before starting your work.

Option 2: Creative project about your own personal descent to the underworld. 

  • This is an artistic work that can take any form -- literary, visual, musical, dance, film, or even a combination of these. 
  • You can represent your personal underworld in any way that you want -- funny, sad, cathartic, scary, confessional, beautiful, or some combination thereof.
  • Literary works may exceed 10 pages (double-spaced, please).
  • Regardless of medium, your work should – and probably will, both consciously and unconsciously – make thematic connections to the recurring underworld motifs that we've discussed in class.
  • An artist’s statement (1-2 pages) must accompany your creative work, you should be able to reflect on where your ideas for the work came from, why they take the form that they do, and what they mean to you.

Why does this project need to be creative, rather than an autobiographical essay?

  • Only art is large enough for us to express – and thereby reflect on – experience.
  • Expressing yourself creatively is a form of understanding, and it can be cathartic and therapeutic in ways that a non-fiction essay cannot.
  • When we write stories or paint or make music about our ideas and experiences, things emerge from the creation of art that we could not have suspected and could not have understood otherwise.
  • Metaphor is larger than confession, art is larger than the individuals who make it.
  • By expressing yourself creatively, you come closer to the wisdom that the underworld offers those who descend to it.
  • Only Stef and I will see your work, and what you share is completely confidential.
  • If you prefer one of us grade the assignment rather than the other, please let us know.
  • Please come talk to us if you have any difficulties with the framework of this assignment, or its personal nature, or just want to talk about ideas you might have for the project.

Writing Credit

In order to receive  “W” credit for this class (in addition to VLPA credit), you must write and revise a 5-7 page paper on a topic that you have discussed either with me or Stef.

A writing credit paper must be an analytical research paper with all the critical apparatus that goes with it (bibliography, footnotes).

  • A draft of your paper must be uploaded to Canvas by Sunday, February 20th.
  • We will read the draft, make comments and indicate where changes and corrections need to be made, and we will return it to you one week before the final, on March 10th
  • You then revise the paper in accordance with the corrections and changes we have indicated, and submit the revised paper when the final is due.

Because of the time-consuming nature of our reading and commenting on drafts, it is essential that you take the following steps if you wish to receive writing credit:

You must:

  • Notify me in person AND by email that you’ll be taking the class for W credit
  • You must do this no later than the end of week 5 of the quarter
  • There are no exceptions to this rule.
  • If you have not followed these steps, you cannot submit drafts for W credit.

Method of evaluation:

Class participation: 20%         Written assignments: 40%      Final project: 40%

Rubric for class participation grade:

4.0       Consistently adds to discussion, demonstrates familiarity with reading

3.5       Occasionally participates, is attentive in class, demonstrates familiarity with reading

3.0       Rarely participates, but is attentive in class

2.0       Rarely participates, and texts, sleeps, does other homework in class

1.0       Does not participate, does not attend class regularly

0          Does not attend class, so cannot participate

Also, if you email me a picture of pug dog in the first week or so of class, you will automatically get extra discussion/participation credit for an otherwise-unannounced extra credit option. Because you read the syllabus. And I like pug dogs.

Class policies

If you miss class, please let me and Stef know this. I am not planning on recording lectures or classes, unless Covid-19 has even more surprises in store for us.

            Please arrive on time for class. If you will be consistently late, due to your preceding class’s distance from ours, let me know this as soon as possible.

            Food and drinks in class: drinks are ok, but no food is allowed in our classroom, and you should not remove your mask entirely when drinking your beverage.

            Please don’t call me by my first name. I’m old. You’re not. I’m “Dr. Henry.”


Please put them away.

Student honesty – please see the University’s official policies at:

Students suspected of plagiarism will be given a 0.0 for the assignment, and asked to explain their actions.  If these are unsatisfactory, the Dean’s office will be involved. If you participate in UW athletics, your coach and tutor will also be notified. This may affect not only your eligibility to play, but because of your failing grade for the assignment, may jeopardize your athletic scholarship itself.  For all students, the matter will go on your permanent academic record, to which future employers, medical, law, and graduate schools will have access.  

So, just don’t do it.

Catalog Description:
Examines real and metaphoric underworlds in literature and films about the afterlife, the heroic journey, guilt, grief, violence, and redemption. Students learn how the mythic underworld functions not only in art, but in their own lives.
GE Requirements Met:
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
July 23, 2024 - 4:21 pm