The novel has been the dominant genre in English and world literature for more than three centuries. Henry James called it “the most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of literary forms.” For R. P. Blackmur, the novel gives “theoretical form to life.” “European society,” says philosopher E. M. Cioran, “is the society of the novel. Europeans are the children of the novel.” How did the novel rise to such preeminence? This course will introduce you to several exemplary early novels: The Pilgrim’s Progress by Bunyan (excerpts); Robinson Crusoe by Defoe (excerpts); Pamela by Richardson (excerpts), Joseph Andrews by Fielding, Gulliver’s Travels by Swift (excerpts), and Tristram Shandy by Sterne. Discussions will focus on the poetics of the novel as a literary genre and the problems associated with its emergence in England. We’ll study the connections between empiricism, individualism, and the rise of middle-class values and mentality: the English novel responded to those broad social currents with narratives modeling human behavior and destiny, virtue and vice, curiosity and quirkiness. We’ll also explore the formal connections between the novel and other genres (epic, history, satire), and the role of humor and parody in the emergence of the novel. Our main objective is to read the primary texts, grasp the large literary issues, and learn the critical vocabulary related to the genre of the novel. Successful completion of the course will enable you to understand better the subsequent history of the novel, the rise of realism, and how the unfinished form of the novel encourages aesthetic experimentation.
329 is an upper-level English course with a substantial reading load. Requirements and grading: brief research tasks, quizzes, participation, attendance (25% of your course grade), and three short essays (each counts as 1 grade unit and must earn at least a passing grade to count as part of the course grade).