While novel established itself as a genre by the mid-eighteenth century, a classification which by definition consists of stock features, it has exhibited a remarkable capacity for renewal and plasticity, living up to its adjectival form through inversion, parody, and shifting views on the role and moral status of fiction and the writer-artist. We will witness the novel emerge from a nexus of earlier existing forms—criminal biography, the conversion narrative, the letter, the conduct book, the diary, romance, and allegory—and will trace its evolution into postmodernism with its practice of a self-conscious, often playful amalgamation of narrative traditions.
Beginning with Eliza Haywood's early eighteenth-century amatory novella Fantomina, and moving to hallmark novels of this century (Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Samuel Richardson's Pamela), we will look at figures such as Catherine Morland of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, the text a send-up of Gothic romance fiction conventions, to Briony Tallis of Ian McEwan's Atonement, which takes Austen's novel as its epigraph, a protagonist whose myopic affinity to romance leads to grave consequences for individuals in her circle. In between, we will examine classic novels of the Romantic and Victorian period such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and visit landmark texts of Modernism such as Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, a defining stream-of-conscious novel and philosophical meditation on "moments of being" and "reality." By the course's end, we will have traversed various incarnations of this genre and have consider the form's ability to reflect back, if not propound, social and philosophical debates of respective periods.