The English Novel: Novel Urban Spectacles
Instructor: Michael Gamer
Class Meets: Monday and Wednesday, 9-11 a.m.
- Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year (1722; Penguin; ISBN
- Fanny Burney, Evelina (1778, Broadview Press; ISBN
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1860; Broadview,
- Bram Stoker, Dracula (Broadview, 1551111365)
- Ian McEwan, Atonement (2003, Knopf; 038572179X).
- Roy Porter, London: A Social History (Harvard; 0-67-453839-0)
- Michael McKeon, ed. The Theory of the Novel (Johns Hopkins; ISBN
Reading Ahead: I strongly recommend that you do as much of the
reading as is possible before coming to London. Also: There is no need
necessarily to bring the book entitled The Theory of the Novel to
London. You can if you'd like; but we will use the essays in that book as
the basis for the take-home final exam, which I will send to you around
mid-August. If you wish to read ahead from that book, you should look at
the entries by Watt, Bakhtin, McKeon, and Armstrong, for starters.
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 and Due Dates: During July, you will
primarily be keeping a writing journal, which I will read once during the
month. In week five, I will be happy to meet with you to discuss which
entries you might wish to turn into journal essays for the Journal
Project. The Final Exam will be take-home. I'll post it on-line around
August 10th or so, and it will be due at the same time as the Journal
Project. The Final Exam will ask you to read essays from The Theory of
the Novel and to use them as a basis for writing about the novels in
Grading: The Journal project and the Final Exam each are worth
half of your grade. Obviously I will downgrade (and, in a few cases
upgrade) students based on the quality (as opposed to the quantity) of
their participation in our seminars. Both the journal assignment and the
final exam are due September 8th, at 4 pm, to my mailbox at 3600 Market
Street, Suite 501A.
More on The Journal Project: The set of Journal Essays 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
do 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 -- as
well as where you can make connections between various passages in a
novel and analyze them. While you certainly should think about (and even
write about) the questions I ask each week about the reading, I'm hoping
you'll use the journal to ask your own questions. Certainly for the
Journal Project you should not use my questions as the basis for your
essays; the point is for you to move beyond those questions to those of
your own formulating. At the very least, 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? But you should also think hard about the relation
between the form of these novels and the geographies they inhabit.
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: 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 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 also want to think
about exactly what London is performing for you. You'll probably
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 August, you should then pick four fruitful entries in your
journal and work them up into no more than four finished,
reflective, exploratory "essay-entries" totaling at least 20 pages. Do
not be afraid, in the process of revising, to radically rewrite and add
to existing material. In fact, you should. 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 essays 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 four such entries (or even three) would be
repetitive. Instead, try to choose four entries that represent both your
thinking for the course and your experience of living, reading, and
thinking in London over this five-week period.
During July, I'll read through your journals at least once, and 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 your journal while your in London; at the same time, I ask you to
select from your journals and write longer, more reflective essays
because I want you to keep thinking about the texts and the city during
August. 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 (June 27, 29): 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
http://www.english.upenn.edu/Undergrad/Courses/Spring02/traffic/unit1.html. Have a look there during May and June if you have on-line access. For this first class, 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 below:
- 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? Think very hard about the myriad of different kinds of
belief the narrator addresses, from governmental to religious to
- 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 4, 6): 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
- 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 Defoe's?
- 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 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 to you?
- 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? Put another way, what different kinds of writing or
style do you find in the novel?
- 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 possible?
- 6. Think especially about your own London travel journal. What
connections between art and culture does Evelina make? What are you doing
the same or differently?
Week #3 (July 11, 13): 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
- 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 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 18, 20): Read Bram Stoker, Dracula, and
any accompanying articles you wish in your edition. 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? what part of
London? 2. Why are there so many kinds of new technologies and different
kinds of writing in Dracula? What is their function? 3. How does
the absence of an omniscient narrator change your reading experience?
Week #5 (July 25, 27): Read Ian McEwan, Atonement,
and if possible read parts of it aloud to yourself. What happens to the
pace of the novel when you do this? If you did not go on the Dickens walk
with us, then you must go this week to St. Paul's and to explore the area
around it, particularly St. Bride's (on the Strand) and the exhibit in
the basement. You'll see how the entire area around St. Paul's was
completely leveled during the Blitz, and the cathedral survived only
because of hundreds of the volunteers. Questions: What is different about
this book's style and formal characteristics? What is the author's
attitude toward authorship? What do you make of its episodic quality? and
the relation between this structure and its views on authorship and
atonement that come near the end of the book?