The English Novel: Novel Urban Spectacles
Class Meets: Monday and Wednesday, 12:30-2:00 p.m.
Course Texts (call Penn Book Center ASAP to order
- Frances Burney, Evelina (Oxford UP, $9.95)
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (Penguin $10.95)
- Bram Stoker, Dracula (Broadview Press, $9.95)
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (Harcourt Brace, $12.00)
- Peter Carey, Jack Maggs (Random House, $10.95)
- Roy Porter, London: A Social History (Harvard UP, $19.95)
Course Description: In this five-week course we'll study the
history of the British novel through its representations of Britain's
central city, London. We will read five novels in five weeks and will also
read a few accounts of the novel's history and characteristics. In
addition, we'll visit many of the sites (and sights) that the novels
themselves represent, from East London and London Bridge to Greenwich,
Tyburn Tree, Sadler's Wells and Vauxhall, Mayfair, Picadilly, and Covent
Garden. Our aim will be to understand the symbiotic relationships existing
between London and the novel, and to trace how the growth of the
former--and its habit of remaking itself into a series of spectacles and
Writing Assignments: During the course, you will primarily be
keeping a writing journal, which I will read once during the semester and
make suggestions for paper topics. In week five, I would like to meet with
you to discuss your final paper project (12-15 pp.). Your writing journal
and your paper will each be worth half of your grade. Both are due
September 5 at 4 pm in my mailbox in the Penn English Department.
Obviously, if you wish to meet at any point before week five to discuss
the course, I'd be happy to do so.
The Journal: The Writing Journal that you hand in will be very
different from the journal that you keep during the five week term. So,
I've made recommendations below for what you should due during term and
then how you should revise in August:
- 1. During the term, I recommend that you keep a reading and traveling
journal, and that you use it to keep track of your own reflections as you
read the course novels and haunt the sites connected with them. I
especially recommend that you use the journal as a place where you can
make connections between books, sights, courses, and ideas, and where you
can make connections between various passages in a novel and analyze them.
You should, before and after class, think about the relation between the
text's form and its content. What is experimental or almost dogmatically
traditional? Why this form? Why not another? For example: How is Great
Expectations different in technique from Evelina? Do these novels
different parts of London, or do they represent the same places but in
different ways? Or, another example: Often the way literary texts make
meaning is through their excesses--what is excessive about the text we're
reading for a given week? How are a particular novel's formal and
stylistic excesses connected to the issues it explores?
- 2. During the term, alongside these initial notes and impressions,
I hope that you'll spend an equal amount of time in your journal thinking
about London itself as a performance space--whose architecture, monuments,
and many spectacles (from the style of the taxis, mail boxes, and phone
booths to the Nelson Monument, Speaker's Corner, or Madame Tussaad's)
achieve effects similar to the kind that we perceive in plays or novels.
You may want to make your journal an "Urban Spectacle" journal, where you
spend time thinking about the relation between what you see and what you
read, but also about the poetics and politics of outdoor (and indoor)
space. Ideally, your journal should spend as much time thinking about your
reading outside of books as inside books.
- 3. During the term, you should use the journal to think about
possible essay projects that you would like to tackle.
- 4. During August, you should then pick five fruitful entries in
your journal and work them up into finished reflective essays of 2-4 pages
each. Do not be afraid, in the process of revising, to radically rewrite
and add to existing material. It might be that your best ideas might occur
after you go back home; you may even get a great idea for an entry after
you've left London. Ideally, your entries should not overlap with your
final essay, but rather represent to me the work and thinking you've
outside of that assignment. Most importantly, your journal should be
interesting and pleasure to read. It will be up to you to decide what
ideas to pursue, but you should avoid having all of your entries resemble
one another in scope or approach. For example, thinking through why our
novels all focus upon a single part of London is a good idea, but doing
five such entries (or even three) would be repetitive. Instead, try to
choose five entries that represent both your thinking for the course and
your experience of living, reading, and thinking in London over this
I will collect the final version of your writing journal with your
final paper on September 1st. Along the way, I'll make notes to myself so
as to keep track of your progress in it. I'll formulate the final grade on
the journal based on my notes and on the final version of it. I do this
because what I care most about is that you keep thinking about the texts
even after we've read them. So, please don't think it's somehow cheating
to reread the materials in August, and to continue writing in your journal
about the materials. It might be that some of you will have huge
epiphanies about the early plays we read only after you read the gothic
dramas with which we'll close the course.
Long Paper Assignment (12-15 pp): During the semester, I will
provide you with a handout for this assignment. In week 5, we'll meet to
discuss the paper.
Week #1 (June 24, 26): For June 24, come to our first class having
complete Frances Burney's Evelina. Read the introduction as well.
should also have completed Roy Porter's London: A Social History,
least read the chapters that pertain to London in the eighteenth century.
We'll be using this book repeatedly during our five weeks. For these
classes, here are some questions I'd like you to think about. Come to
class the first meeting with an answer jotted down to at least two of the
- 1. In what parts of London does this novel take place? Why there and
not elsewhere? (use Porter).
- 2. What kind of ideal reader is Evelina written for? What kind
effect is the book supposed to have? Where in the text is this most
apparent to you?
- 3. Try to imagine how this book asks to be read? In what kind of
environment? At what kind of pace? Where in the text is this most apparent
- 4. What kinds of pleasures does the book seek to produce? What kind of
readerly desire does it seek to manufacture? Where in the text is this
most apparent to you?
- 5. Evelina is an epistolary novel, typical of the 18th century
of Samuel Richardson. If you were writing a novel, how would adopting this
form make it more difficult to write? What would be easier? Within the
form of a letter, what other kinds of writing (dialogue for example?) are
possible or not possible?
Week #2 (July 1, 3): Read Great Expectations and the
London: A Social History that deal with London in the 19th century.
with Evelina, I'd like you to come to the first class meeting
prepared answers to at least two of the questions below:
- 1. In what parts of London does this novel take place? Why there
and not elsewhere? (use Porter).
- 2. Again, who is the implied, ideal reader of this text? (Contrast, if
you wish, to Evelina)
- 3. Again, what kinds of effects--both pleasure and suspense--does this
text seek to produce? (Contrast, if you wish, to Evelina)
- 4. If you map out what basic acts are moral and immoral in this book,
can you derive from this list a systematic moral universe in this novel?
Is there a politics of class, gender, or power underlying this moral
- 5. What is the relation between Pip the narrator and Pip the
Week #3 (July 8, 10): Read Bram Stoker, Dracula, and any
accompanying articles I may provide. For our questions, you may take up
any of the previous ones asked and apply them to Dracula, or answer
the following two: 1. Why does Dracula want to come to London? 2.
there so many kinds of new technologies and different kinds of writing in
Dracula? What is their function?
Week #4 (July 15, 17): Read Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway,
possible read parts of it aloud to yourself. Questions: 1. Reconstruct
Mrs. Dalloway's walk and talk it yourself. Take a good look at what kinds
of houses and public buildings you pass. What would someone who knew
London be forced to conclude about Mrs. Dalloway? What is the relationship
between this geography in the book and Mrs. Dalloway's own thoughts? 2.
What is different about this book's style and formal characteristics? Make
an exhaustive list of them.
Week #5: (July 22-24): Read Peter Carey, Jack Maggs. Bring
own questions regarding this book.