Abandoned at the Bottom: Literary Portrayals of the Underclass


Course Description

This course will take place on Zoom.

This course will focus on a selection of short stories, memoirs, and novels that portray the lives of those at the very bottom of the social ladder, existing in what has been variously described as “a nether world” (Gissing), an “underworld” (London), and a “maelstrom in which real life is reduced to its lowest terms” (Grove). 

We will explore the unique qualities of this literature, as opposed to other forms of writing, in depicting the lives of the dispossessed. What (if anything) does literature have to offer that social science, for example, cannot? On the one hand, this domain is surely not one in which “Art for Art’s Sake” should prevail. On the other hand, at what point might social criticism and political ideology interfere with the capacity of literature to engage the reader? Course readings will be diverse enough to test these limits and probe for answers to such questions.

With readings covering a span of over 130 years and set in a variety of locations, discussion will naturally lead to questions about the influence of time and place in the experiences of the underclass. Is the existence of an underclass inevitable? Has there been a difference in the composition of the underclass over time and in different places? Have literary works themselves developed in their approaches to dramatizing life at the bottom? Course readings will include the work of Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Frederick Philip Grove, Robert Tressell, Atticus Lish, and others.

Books to Purchase (will be available at Argo Bookshop during the weeks prior to the course beginning):

    • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics)
    • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (9780141042701)
    • Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn (WW Norton)

This course is full; to add yourself to the waitlist, email info@thomasmore.qc.ca or call (514) 935-9585. Should vacancies develop, those on the waiting list will be contacted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Course Details

First Session: Thursday 20 January 2022

Course Length: 6 weeks, Thursdays, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Discussion Team: Zsolt Alapi, Anne Fitzpatrick, Michael Tritt

Degree Credit: 1.5 credits

Course Fee: 

$120.00 (standard tuition)

$80.00 (promotion for new students)

Administrative Fee:



$145.00 (standard tuition)

$105.00 (promotion for new students)


Course fees are refundable in full before the second session. After the second session, a fee of $50 for the withdrawal will be applied. Refunds will not be issued after the third session. Please note that non-attendance does not constitute a withdrawal.

Students pursuing studies for credit are encouraged to consult with their advisers as they register for courses.

Course leaders, and students wishing to use credit vouchers, should call (514) 935-9585 to pay by phone or to schedule an appointment to pay in person.

Questions? Stuck? Give us a call at (514) 935-9585
or email us at info@thomasmore.qc.ca