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Literature and Business

ENGL 109.301
TR 1:30–3

Literature and Business is a new, specialized course designed to explore the representation of modern commerce, corporate and entrepreneurial life, financial and legal structures in industrial and advanced capitalism, doctrines of prosperity and economic growth, and the emotional, moral, and social life of women and men working in business from the early-mid-1800s to the present.  In addition, we will consider the latest literature on financialization and on the so-called “creative economy” to think about how the arts, the humanities, and business intersect in our world today. The course is open to a mix of undergraduates from the College and Wharton.


The core materials in Literature and Business are classic and contemporary novels that provide a rich and rounded picture of the development of the modern corporation and of the life of businessmen and women from industrialism to the present.  The works range across tones and genres, from sentimental to satirical, family saga to spiritual autobiography.  Secondary readings will extend backward to Adam Smith and Max Weber and forward to present-day accounts of business ethics and the economic future, providing students with intellectual and historical contexts that anchor the primary readings.  The syllabus centers on European and American traditions but expands into a necessarily global framework, including Asian economies, and Asian and African diasporic commerce.

Primary readings will include novels by Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, Tom Wolfe, Jane Smiley, Joseph O’Neill, Aravind Adiga, Mohsin Hamid, and Tash Aw.  Graded requirements will include several short informal and creative writing projects, one essay on fiction (1800 words), one essay on film adaptation (1800 words), and one longer research project that culminates in a paper, poster, slideshow, webpage, presentation, or video (to be developed in consultation with Professor Esty, and to include an annotated bibliography).  Possible topics for research projects:  Financial crash films, family business sagas, the rags-to-riches genre over time, spiritualized banking, office criminals, sex and speculative economies, literature as business strategy, overseas trading narratives, the entrepreneur as Robinson Crusoe, African-American mobility in business, the queer workplace, science fiction capitalism, Wall Street espionage, and more.

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