This is a standard introductory survey of British fiction since 1900, but with one important difference. Instead of reading the novels in print form, we will listen to audiobook sound files. Our texts will all be major British novels, ranging from Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000) and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004). We will explore a number of important questions about the genre of the novel and the politics of literary form, the relationship between modernism and postmodernism, and the shifting dynamics of Englishness and Britishness. But we will also have occasion to consider the particular qualities of the audio format, which has been dramatically on the rise since the advent of the iPod. What are the advantages of listening rather than reading, and what are the limitations or losses inherent in a shift to the aural? To what extent are our responses to an audio novel shaped by the stylistic and interpretative decisions of the performer? How does the library of available audio titles differ from the library of print titles, and who decides what gets made into a sound recording and what doesn’t?
The class is conceived as an experiment, the first all-audiobook class at Penn and possibly anywhere. We will purchase our texts with credits from Audible, and will use audio-capture tools to extract audio “quotations” for use in class and in written work (some of which will be submitted as sound recording rather than typescript). Our aims will be to learn something about modernist and contemporary British fiction, to help pioneer a new field of literary study (audiobook studies), and to enjoy a series of really great novels. Written work will include an essay of 4-5 pages, a longer essay of 7-9 pages, and five short midterm exams; there will be no final.