Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

The English Novel and the World

ENGL 103.601

Today, the novel is considered one of the serious forms of literature. But unlike poetry and drama, the novel has a relatively short history. If we trace the development of the novel, we can find a coherent narrative that continues to this day, a meta-novel that we are still writing: the transformation of the world by western capitalism. This course will look at some classic novels from England, and tell the story of the rise and fall of an empire against the backdrop of global capitalism. We will begin with the 18th century, when the growth of the middle-class reading public gave rise to the novel. We will explore how Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe sets the paradigm for fictional representation of capitalism, and ask why this quintessentially English novel is set on a remote, deserted island. Then, we will move on to the 19th century, the golden age of the novel and the heyday of the British Empire. In George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, and Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, stories of individual development, marriage, and inheritance not only insect with but are made possible by a larger economic and political landscape. We will conclude with the 20th century, an age of British imperial decline, American dominance, and full-blown globalization. In their reflections on the cultural implications of England’s displacement from the world’s center, James Joyce’s Dubliners, J. M. Coetzee’s Foe, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day raise larger questions about language, power, and modernity. Course requirements include a close reading paper, and a longer research paper.

This course fulfills the Arts and Letters Sector.

fulfills requirements
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major