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Geography and the Novel

ENGL 748.301
crosslisted as: COML620, FREN660
T 3-5
6th Floor of Lea Library, Van Pelt Library


This course will be taught in the Lea Library on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library.

Is the novel somehow inherently trans-national? How did the novel escape the confines of the national borders within which it began its modern existence?  Why did the quintessential genre of the here and now become cosmopolitan?

This course will move between theory of the novel and literary history.  On the theory of the novel side, we will consider recent works, in particular the studies by Margaret Doody and Michael McKeon, that suggest in different ways that the romance-novel divide, long held to be absolute, is perhaps a false problem.  (We will also look at more “nationalistic” studies, Ian Watt’s for example, that respect the romance-novel divide.)  On the literary history side, we’ll consider what may have been the most significant factor in the regeneration of prose fiction that is known as the birth of the modern novel: the rediscovery, in 17th-century England and France, of the so-called Greek novel.  We’ll read at least two of the Greek novels that captivated 17th-century readers and altered the course of European prose fiction.

The tie that binds these two ways of approaching prose fiction is the question of geography.  We’ll use the insights found in Franco Moretti’s wonderful Atlas of the European Novel to contrast the two dominant geographical models between which the novel alternates: big-world roaming and small-world claustrophobia.

Some of the questions that we’ll ask include: why is it that some novelists such as Jane Austen systematically construct constricted and constricting universes, worlds in which characters never see the wide world?  Why do others—Voltaire, Mary Shelley—-move their characters all over the globe, or at least all across Europe?  And why do still other novelists (Lafayette) alternate between cosmopolitan fictions and claustrophobic ones?  Finally, in what ways does the big world outside always invade even the most confined fictional universes?

The course will be taught in English.  All reading will be available in English.  French titles will also be available in French.  Students wishing to take the course for French credit will do the reading and at least some of the writing in French.  

A note on books: I’ll order some copies of Moretti, but students might want to pick one up on Amazon.  Ditto for Reardon’s anthology of Greek novels.  It’s a bit dear, but used copies are easily found online.  And you can always xerox the novels we’ll read from the copy on reserve.