Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Novel Doubletakes

ENGL 754.301
R 12-3

This course will examine the historical, cultural and aesthetic significance of the nineteenth-century novel by focussing on a peculiar trend in contemporary literature: the penchant of twentieth-century authors for rewriting nineteenth-century fiction. In the course of the semester, we will read a series of nineteenth-century novels alongside their twentieth-century counterparts in order to ask a number of difficult literary, historical, and theoretical questions: why have so many present-day authors found it essential to take up the politics and poetics of nineteenth-century fiction? what do rewritings of nineteenth-century novels allow authors to say--about now, about then, about the relationship between now and then? how do these literary "doubletakes" transform, distort, illuminate, or even mistake the works they are adapting? In order to address these questions, we will necessarily have a dual focus in this course, studying what these variously re-written works meant during the nineteenth-century in order to better address their significance to late twentieth-century ideas about authorship and culture. Our reading will be centered on the following pairs: Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1813) and Helen Fielding's BRIDGET JONES' DIARY (1998); Charlotte Bronte's JANE EYRE (1847) and Jean Rhys' WIDE SARGASSO SEA (1966); Charles Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1860) and Peter Carey's JACK MAGGS (1998); George Eliot's MILL ON THE FLOSS (1860) and Cynthia Ozick's PUTTERMESSER PAPERS (1997); Joseph Conrad�s HEART OF DARKNESS (1899) and Norman Rush�s MATING (1991). Along the way, we'll supplement our primary readings with background reading on authors and relevant historical issues (sexuality, imperialism, changing ideas of authorship, etc.). We�ll also read both old and new reviews, and sample contemporary criticism in nineteenth-century studies as a way of gaining perspective on both the older works and their recent novelistic "critiques." And we will conclude with A.S. Byatt's award-winning novel about the pleasures and dangers of studying nineteenth-century literature, POSSESSION (1990).

Requirements: One shortish paper (10-12 pages) due mid-term, and a longer research paper (20-25 pages) due at the end of the term. One in-class presentation, and regular forays into both actual and virtual archives to locate reviews, articles, historical information, and other materials relevant to the course.