When the novel emerged during the first half of the eighteenth century, it was named for what was most remarkable about it: its novelty. Emerging from a variety of existing literary and rhetorical forms--among them criminal biography, the conversion narrative, the letter, the conduct book, the diary, romance, drama, and allegory--the novel was, before it was anything else, new. The story of the rise of the novel is the story of how a new literary form became a distinct, established genre, one whose formal conventions quickly grew to be every bit as stylized as those of poetry and drama. It is also the story of how, even as the novel aged, it was--and still is--understood as a literary form with a remarkable capacity to renew itself. A defining paradox of the history of the genre is that even as it assumed a distinct form and a set repertoire of plots, the nature of the novel was such that no one could agree on what it truly was or what it could become.
This course traces the rise of the British novel from its earliest, muddled origins in other genres, through its nineteenth-century heyday as the preferred reading of a solidly respectable middle class, to its metamorphosis at the end of the nineteenth century into a means of making modernist art. Over the course of the term, we will watch a variety of writers struggling to make the novel form serve their artistic goals, their economic needs, and in some cases, their political ends. We will also watch as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novelists and critics produced a nascent theory of the novel, paying particular attention to how individual novels meditate on what novels are, or ought, to be. Our collective aim will be to arrive at an understanding of how the history of the novel has in many ways been the history of debates about the novel--about whether novels were morally uplifting or socially threatening or both, about whether novels were art or entertainment or both, about what kinds of truths novels could tell about what kinds of subjects, and about whether, and on what terms, novels could properly claim to participate in the social and philosophical debates of their day.
Reading for the course will necessarily be heavy. It will most likely include Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Samuel Richardson's Pamela, Henry Fielding's Shamela, Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, George Eliot's Middlemarch,Henry James' Daisy Miller, Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Requirements: One short paper (5-7 pages), one longer paper (10-12 pages), weekly listserv posts, regular attendance, lively participation, and a final exam.