The Rise of the Novel in Britain
Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts & Letters (for students admitted before Fall 2006)
While novel established itself as a genre by the mid-eighteenth century, a classification which by definition consists of stock features, it has exhibited a remarkable capacity for renewal and plasticity, living up to its adjectival form through inversion, parody, and shifting views on the role and moral status of fiction and the writer-artist. We will witness the novel emerge from a nexus of earlier existing forms—criminal biography, the conversion narrative, the letter, the conduct book, the diary, romance, and allegory—and will trace its evolution into postmodernism with its practice of a self-conscious, often playful amalgamation of narrative traditions.
Beginning with Eliza Haywood's early eighteenth-century amatory novella Fantomina, and moving to hallmark novels of this century (Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Samuel Richardson's Pamela), we will look at figures such as Catherine Morland of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, the text a send-up of Gothic romance fiction conventions, to Briony Tallis of Ian McEwan's Atonement—which takes Austen's novel as its epigraph¬— a character whose myopic attachment to romance leads to grave consequences for individuals in her circle. In between, we will examine classic novels of the Romantic and Victorian period such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray; visit landmark texts of Modernism such as Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, a defining stream-of-conscious novel; and engage a mid-twentieth century bestseller, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, for a microcosm of England's post-lapserian status as a world empire. By the course's end, we will have traversed various incarnations of this genre and have consider the form's ability to reflect back, if not propound, social and philosophical debates of respective periods.
Besides consistent active class participation, course requirements include a short close reading paper, a comparative paper, and a 12-pg. research paper. For each session you will also submit a discussion question. No midterm or final exam.