When a novel tells a story, you can sometimes find a different story hidden in the way of the telling—a story disclosed by the method and style of the narration itself. For instance: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Now that’s one story, about money and marriage. But there’s another story there too, buried within the tone and implications of the narrating voice, and that story is about something different. (Wondering where the quotation comes from? Google it!)
In this course we will undertake close readings of three classic novels from the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, to see (among other things) how narrative method and style can form meaning, with special attention to the representation of social class. The novels are Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749), Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861). These novels depict the social experience of their time in brilliant scope and depth, but they also expose the rotting moral infrastructure of that experience. How this happens, and with what result, we will learn from a study of their narrative form and voice. Also: the period covered here is among the very greatest in the history of the British and European novel, with these three examples sitting right at the top. So there’s that to look forward to as well.