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Jane Austen & Company: The Novel of Manners Tradition

ENGL 260.401
TR 1030-12

Best embodied by the works of Jane Austen, Henry James, and Edith Wharton, the novel of manners lies between two extremes. Engaged with decoding society’s customs, dress, and private conduct, it occupies a middle ground between courtly romance and cynical anti-romantic fiction. The last decade has witnessed a major revival of this tradition in the form of film adaptations and the popular fiction subgenre “chick lit,” exemplified by international bestsellers Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. As a community of thinkers and writers we will evaluate the achievements of these perennial and new classics as well explore how novel writing is a way of creating, not just reporting, what Nancy Bentley has called “the governing fictions of culture.” Through in-class writing, discussion, and short papers, we will work to decode the ways in which this major literary tradition depicts the role and formation of heroines, male-female relations, romantic love, and courtship. As we assess this marriage of old and new, additional authors and texts may include Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Mary McCarthy’s “Cruel and Barbarous Treatment,” Louis Auchincloss’s “The Friend of Women,” Elizabeth Bowen’s “Ivy Gripped the Steps,” and Sybil Brinton’s Old Friends and New Fancies, a re-discovered sequel originally published in 1913 that unites characters from Austen’s six novels with creations of the author’s own.  Besides consistent active contributions to discussion, assignments will include a class presentation, a short paper early in the semester, and a long essay (12+ pgs.) at the end of term. No midterm or final exam.  Course will be cross-listed with Women’s Studies.

fulfills requirements
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major