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Geography and the Novel

ENGL 545.401
also offered as: FREN 560, COML 561
Tuesdays 2-4

Is the novel somehow inherently trans-national?  How did the novel escape the confines of the national borders within which it began its modern existence?  Why, when, and how did the quintessential genre of the here and now become cosmopolitan?


We’ll compare key works from the two national literatures in which complex traditions of prose fiction developed in the course of the long 18th century: English and French.  Thus, for example, we’ll consider the very different origins implied for those traditions by the works often seen as their first modern novels: La Princesse de Clèves and Robinson Crusoe.


Throughout our readings, we’ll focus on the question of geography.  We’ll use the insights found in Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel to contrast the two dominant geographical models between which the prose fiction of the long 18th century alternated: big-world roaming and small-world claustrophia.


Some of the questions that we’ll ask include: why is it that some novelists such as Jane Austen systematically construct constricted and constricting universes, worlds in which characters never see the wide world?  In contrast, why do others – Voltaire, Mary Shelley – move their characters all across Europe, if not all over the globe?  And why do still other novelists (Lafayette) alternate between cosmopolitan fictions and claustrophobic ones?  Finally, in what ways does the big world outside almost always invade even the most confined fictional universes? 


The course will be taught in English.  All readings, including French ones, will be available in English.  French titles will also be available in French.  Students wishing to take the course for French credit will do the reading and some of the writing in French. 


The course is open to advanced undergraduates WITH PERMISSION OF THE INSTRUCTOR.

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