The English Novel: Novel Urban Spectacles
Instructor: Michael Gamer
Class Meets: Tuesday, 1-5 p.m.
- Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year (Penguin; ISBN
- Fanny Burney, Evelina (Broadview Press; ISBN 1-55111-237-X)
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (Penguin; ISBN
- Bram Stoker, Dracula (Norton; ISBN 0-393-97012-4)
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (Harcourt; ISBN 0-15-662870-8)
- Roy Porter, London: A Social History (Harvard; 0-67-453839-0)
Coursepack: In addition, I will be providing you with a small pack of
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 shows.
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 5th, at 4
pm, either electronically or in my mailbox at Penn at 119 Bennett Hall.
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 explore 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 five finished reflective "essay-entries"
totalling at least 20 pages. 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 five-week period.
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.
Week #1 (July 2): Come to the first meeting having read Daniel Defoe's
Journal of the Plague Year. You should also have completed Roy Porter's
London: A Social History, or at least read the chapters that pertain to
London between 1640 and 1750. We'll be using this book repeatedly during our
five weeks. In addition, I've compiled a considerable amount of additional
information regarding this novel at
Have a look there during May and June if you have on-line access. 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 questions
- 1. This is a book written in 1722 that is pretending to be written much
earlier. What strategies does it take to convince you of its documentary truth?
- 2. Think about the answer you gave to #1. Are these same strategies -- how
to make it seem "real" -- the fundamental tools of what we call "formal
realism"? Can you think of other tools?
- 3. Get out your London A-Z. Does having a map of London as you read
help you see things you couldn't see otherwise? How about the Motco maps (see
the on-line materials)? How has London changed?
Week #2 (July 9): Finish Frances Burney's Evelina. Read the
introduction as well. You should also have completed Roy Porter's London: A
Social History, or at least read the chapters that pertain to London in the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Come to class with an answer jotted
down 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). How is Burney's (and Evelina's) London different from
- 2. What kind of ideal reader is Evelina written for? What kind of
effect is the book supposed to have? Where in the text is this most apparent to
- 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 to
- 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 novel 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
Week #3 (July 16): Read Great Expectations and the chapters
of London: A Social History that deal with London in the 19th century.
As with Evelina, I'd like you to come to the first class meeting having
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
- 2. Again, who is the implied, ideal reader of this text?
(Contrast, if you wish, to Defoe and Burney)
- 3. Again, what kinds of
effects--both pleasure and suspense--does this text seek to produce? (Contrast,
if you wish, to Defoe and Burney)
- 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 universe?
- 5. What is the relation between Pip the
narrator and Pip the character?
Week #4 (July 23): Read Bram Stoker, Dracula, and any
articles you wish in your edition. For our questions, you may take up any of
ones asked and apply them to Dracula, or answer the following two: 1. Why does
Dracula want to come to London? 2. Why are there so many kinds of new
technologies and different kinds of writing in Dracula? What is their
Week #5 (July 30): Read Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, and
possible read parts of it aloud to yourself. Questions: 1. Reconstruct Mrs.
Dalloway's walk and take 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.