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ENGL 337 A: The Modern Novel

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
LOW 106
Close up of Laura Chrisman
Laura Chrisman

Syllabus Description:

Professor Laura Chrisman

B401 Padelford

Winter Quarter 2019

Office Hours: T/Th 2-3pm


English 337A: The Modern Novel   

T Th 11.30am-1.20pm, 106 Loew Hall

The modern novel in English was a global phenomenon. It owed much to the experiences of slavery, empire, war, and industrialization. Across the British and American orbits, novelists critically engaged with the colonial modernity of which they were a product. This course takes a global and comparative approach, exploring writing from countries that may include England, Scotland, the US and Jamaica. We will explore how the novel articulates the turbulence of life in imperial, racialized modernity.

Students are expected to keep up with an intensive reading schedule, and to play an active role in class participation.

As this is an upper-division English class, it assumes that students have familiarity with techniques for analysing and discussing literature. This class adopts a student-centered approach, in which students are actively engaged in generating questions, ideas, understanding and insight, through close reading, independent reflection, and dialogue with one another, facilitated by the instructor. The course may use small group discussion, large group discussion, student presentation, and instructor lecture.

We focus on these primary literary texts, and proceed in this sequence:

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925). Harcourt edition.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song (1932). Canongate edition.

Arna Bontemps, Black Thunder (1936). Beacon edition.

Zora Neale Hurston, Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939). Harper edition.

Please acquire your own hard copies of these novels from the University Bookstores.  You will be expected to make notes in the book’s margins. It is essential for you to have the Harcourt edition for Woolf; her text lacks chapters which means that we will rely on page numbers to identify particular passages. We need to be on the same page…

Secondary readings may be provided on the class Canvas website.

NB: All cell phones must be turned off and put away during class.  Laptops, IPADs, tablets are permitted for class purposes.

Course Objectives.

  1. Students are able to critically explore the issues covered in the course.
  2. Students are able to perform competent close readings of literary texts.
  3. Students use writing opportunities as a space to develop sound metacognitive practices and to critically reflect on their reading practices through writing.
  4. Students develop an awareness of literature’s ability to mediate social, cultural and political issues.


Course assignments and assessments:

Participation: 20% of final grade

Production of class discussion posts: 20% of final grade

Mid-term paper of 1,200 words: 20% of final grade. Due Jan 28, 12 noon, Canvas.

Final paper of 2,400 words: 40% of final grade. Due Mar 20, 12 noon, Canvas.

These word counts do not include the Works Cited page.


You must state the word length on the final page of your essays. You may overrun the word limit by 10% at most; you may underrun the word limit by 10% at most. More than 10% either way will be penalized.


In assigning grades, I adhere to the University grading system: see the end of the syllabus for an outline.

CLASS TOPICS. As you read and write about the novels, think about the following issues:


* Empire, colonialism, and slavery as socio-economic, ideological and political systems: how are these represented in the narratives?  What roles do they play in the imagination or consciousness of the authors? 

* ‘The nation’, national culture and identity: how are these represented? What roles do they play in the imagination/consciousness of the authors? What relationship do they articulate to empire/colonialism/slavery?

* ‘The folk’, orality, pre-colonial experience and history: how do these formations and practices feature in the narratives?  How are they related to ‘modernity’ in the novels?

* Individual and collective resistance to socio-political domination: how does the fiction represent these? How is political authority portrayed?  



Provisional Schedule:

Jan 8: Intro.

Writing the British Empire, part 1: Mrs Dalloway and the Imperial Metropolis

Jan 10: Syllabus quiz.  Edward Said, extracts from ‘Consolidated Vision’, Culture and Imperialism. (In Canvas.)

Jan 15: Mrs. Dalloway: pp. 1-48 (up to/including the paragraph ‘Peter Walsh shut the door.’)

Scott Cohen, ‘The Empire from the Street: Virginia Woolf, Wembley, and Imperial Monuments’, Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 50, No.1, 2004, pp.  85-109. (In Canvas).

Jan 17: Mrs. Dalloway: pp. 48-102 (up to/including the paragraph ending ‘she did not like that man.’)

Jan 22: Mrs. Dalloway: pp. 102-151 up to/including the paragraph ending ‘So that was Dr. Holmes.’)

Jan 24: Mrs. Dalloway: pp. 151-194 (the end of the novel).

Jan 28: Mid-term paper due, submitted through Canvas, 12 noon.


Writing the British Empire, part 2: Sunset Song, Colonial Space and Nationalism

Jan 29: Frantz Fanon, ‘On National Culture’. (In Canvas).

Nationalism Handout. (In Canvas).

Jan 30, by midnight: Group 1 Discussion Post due, on Scott Lyall article; Group 2 Discussion Post due, on ‘The Unfurrowed Field’

Jan 31: Sunset Song: ’The Unfurrowed Field’

Scott Lyall, ‘East is West and West is East: Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Quest for Ultimate Cosmopolitanism’, in Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature, ed. Michael Gardiner et al. (In Canvas).

Feb 4, by midnight: Group 3 Discussion Post due, on ‘Ploughing’ and ‘Drilling’

Feb 5: Sunset Song: ‘Ploughing’, ‘Drilling’

Feb 6, by midnight: Group 4 Discussion Post due, on ‘Seed Time’

Feb 7: Sunset Song: ‘Seed Time’

Feb 11, by midnight: Group 5 Discussion Post due, on ‘Harvest’ and ‘Unfurrowed Field’

Feb 12: Sunset Song: ‘Harvest’, ‘Unfurrowed Field’


Writing the US Empire, part 1: Black Thunder, Slavery and Resistance

Feb 13, by midnight: Group 2 Discussion Post due, on Levecq’s article

Feb 14: Christine Levecq, ‘Philosophies of History in Arna Bontemps’ Black Thunder’, Obsidian III, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2000, pp. 111-130. (In Canvas).

Feb 18, by midnight: Group 3 Discussion Post due, on Book 1

Feb 19: Black Thunder:  Book 1

Feb 20, by midnight: Group 4 Discussion Post due, on Book 2

Feb 21: Black Thunder: Book 2

Feb 25, by midnight: Group 5 Discussion Post due, on Books 3-4

Feb 26: Black Thunder: Books 3-4

Feb 27, by midnight: Group 1 Discussion Post due, on Book 5

Feb 28: Black Thunder: Book 5


Writing the US Empire, part 2: Moses, Man of the Mountain, Liberation and Leadership  

Mar 4, by midnight: Group 3 Discussion Post due, on Thompson’s article; Group 4 Discussion Post due, on Moses chapters 1-10

Mar 5: Moses: chapters 1-10

Mark Christian Thompson, ‘National Socialism and Blood-Sacrifice in Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses Man of the Mountain’, African American Review, Vol. 38, No. 3, 2004, pp. 395-415. (In Canvas).

Mar 6, by midnight: Group 5 Discussion Post due, on chapters 11-22

Mar 7: Moses: chapters 11-22

Mar 11, by midnight: Group 1 Discussion Post due, on chapters 23-32

Mar 12: Moses: chapters 23-32

Mar 13, by midnight: Group 2 Discussion Post due, on chapters 33-40

Mar 14: Moses: chapters 33-40

Mar 15: by 10am, email Prof Chrisman a one-paragraph plan of your final paper.

Mar 20: Final paper due, submitted to Canvas, 12 noon.



This includes productive speaking and listening: the sharing of ideas, questions, issues arising from the week's reading; constructive engagement with the ideas of others in the class; making connections with topics and ideas arising from previous weeks; showing initiative in non-prescribed secondary research which you share with the class. 

In order to participate effectively you must have thoroughly prepared the class readings. In preparing the readings please note down the page numbers of particular passages, sentences which you then direct the class's attention to: the more specific your references are, the more productive the class discussion can be.

Discussion Posts.

Our course discussion board is an extension of our in-class learning community. It’s a place where you can track your reading process and work through thoughts, reactions, and questions in informal, low-stakes writing. Your posts should be coherent and proofread, but you don’t need to have a fully formed thesis. In fact, you may find that you raise more questions than you answer. You’ll also find that your classmates’ ideas and interpretations can serve as catalysts for your own analysis later in our formal writing assignments.

In addition to the assigned reading for each class period, you should also keep up with the discussion posts and come to class prepared to incorporate some of the material into our in-class discussions. Everyone in class should read all posted commentaries for that day’s session in advance of the start of class. Students will be assigned to posting teams, with each team responsible for posting on specific readings; schedule to be organized at the start of term. Every individual in a posting team must post at least 250 words per post; posts should be posted by midnight the day before the relevant class session. Posts must quote directly from the text, giving the page number in the quotation.  The word count should be listed at the end of each post. The posts should explore one, or more, of the ‘Class Topics’ listed in this syllabus. There is no single format, but commentaries should contain responses, observations, questions and ideas related to the prescribed reading for that day. Although your post must address the specified reading for that session, you should also refer back to previous sections of the novel, previous novels studied in this class, and previous postings. The idea is to develop close reading skills and also critical conversations across texts and teams; to develop intellectual connections and raise new questions. All discussion posts are graded, and will total 20% of your total course grade.

Formal Writing Assignments: All papers should be in 12 point, double spaced, each page numbered, 1 inch margins all round, Times New Roman. Your name should be on each page. You must include the word-count at the end of the paper. Papers should follow MLA style. You are responsible for proof-reading. Here is a link to the MLA guidelines:

Mid-term paper: this is to focus on Mrs. Dalloway. You will elaborate on one of the ‘class topics’ above, devising your own title.

Final paper: this will be on two of the three novels Sunset Song, Black Thunder and Moses, Man of the Mountain.

You are responsible for devising your final essay’s title and preparing a one-paragraph plan which you circulate to me by March 15, 10am. Your topic must fall within the broad class concerns.

Both mid-terms and finals should display textual and conceptual engagement, argument, and original insight. The mid-term paper is primarily a close-reading exercise and does not require a ‘Works Cited’ page. The final paper has an independent research component and must have a ‘Works Cited’ section that lists the texts discussed, cited, consulted, with full publication details. There should be at least 4 items in the final paper ‘Works Cited’ including the 2 primary texts. Those items need to be works that your essay shows actual knowledge of; that is, works that you cite and draw upon in the essay. This is what independent research involves, for this course: finding at least one article from a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. You may also draw upon academic books/book chapters, and may draw upon original archival material (such as a newspaper of the early 20th-century). 

My criteria for grading mid-term and final papers include:

--The strength of reasoning. I look for a clearly-presented, rigorous and persuasive argument.

--The strength of interpretation of the primary material. I look for insight and careful analysis of the material that emerges from very close, thoughtful reading.

--The structure and organization of the paper.

--The quality of presentation, grammar and syntax.


The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a useful resource on the mechanics of writing:

See in particular the sections on ‘Mechanics’, ‘Grammar’, ‘Punctuation’.


See the end of this syllabus for some writing do’s and don’ts.


Missing class: absences will make it hard to succeed in this course and may negatively affect your participation grade.  If you are going to miss a class, please email me to let me know in advance. If you do miss class, it’s a great idea to send out an email to the class list or to ask a fellow student for information on what you missed. NB: Do not ask me—I don’t repeat missed material!  

Late Policy: Students are required to complete and hand in all assignments on designated days. No late assignments will be accepted without prior explanation.

Instructor Communication Rules of Conduct: Please address me by my title and last name: Professor Chrisman. Because I am committed to serving all of my students equally I have to set strict boundaries as to the manner and subject matter of all communications. E-mailed questions will generally be addressed within 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays). Do not send me canvas messages – I do not check this feature of the site regularly.

Do not e-mail me questions that are answered explicitly in the syllabus or on the Canvas site. I will delete these without replying. Most questions are best answered in person, either during my office hours, before or after class time, and as a last resort: e-mail. 

Office Hours:  This is a time where you and I can meet outside class to discuss assignments, questions about the reading, concerns about expectations, etc.  If my scheduled hours are inaccessible to you, please email me to make appointments for another time. 

Zero Tolerance Policy: Respect for difference of all kinds is vital to creating a safe, supportive and stimulating classroom community. This class takes a zero tolerance policy toward words or actions that insult, demean, or belittle any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken.

Academic Honesty: It is essential that you properly cite other people’s ideas and language in your writing. In your assignments for this course, I encourage you to cite extensively from the wide array of texts you are in dialogue with; however, you must do so properly. Summarizing someone else’s work and not citing them is considered plagiarism and has significant consequences for your career at the UW.  It may result in the failure of an assignment, the failure of the course, or expulsion from the university.  Don’t plagiarize.


University of Washington Resources 

Accommodation: Please let me know if you need accommodation of any sort. The UW Disability Services Office (DSO) can assist you and/or you can come directly to me.  I’m very willing to take suggestions specific to this class to meet your needs.   The DSO can be contacted at, and Phone (206) 543-6450

Odegaard Writing Center (from group website): This is the place to come and chat with peer tutors and librarians, to grow as a writer in the context of whatever project is foremost in your mind. We can't magically "fix" papers for you (it wouldn't help you long-term if we could), but we can ask all kinds of smart questions and talk with you in order to help you with:

Understanding your assignment — What’s expected of you? What's going on in this writing situation?

Researching — Where can you find appropriate academic resources for your paper? How can you identify useful and credible sources?

         Brainstorming — What directions might your writing take?

         Outlining — How might you shape or organize your ideas?

         Drafting — How can you develop your ideas and connect your thoughts coherently?

Revising — How can you re-see and reconsider your large and small scale writing choices to make the writing more effective?

The Odegaard Writing Center is open to all members of the UW community -- students, staff, and faculty -- and feature exceptional tutors and convenient hours. Sign-up for an appointment today.

For more information or to set up an appointment, visit:

 ELL/MLL English Language Learning Resources (from group website):

English Language Learner students to participate in the Odegaard Writing and Research Center “Targeted Learning Communities” (TLC). The OWRC tutors work with small groups of students who share a reading- or writing- intensive course. Students work together with the tutor to troubleshoot some of the difficulties they encounter as ELL/MLL writers.

You can team up with other English language learners from your class and be partnered with an OWRC tutor, who will meet with your group once a week for an hour at a time you choose together.  The goals of these weekly meetings are to help you take control of your learning, connect with classmates, practice good study habits, and get the most out of your class. We can help you with things like:

*reading difficult course texts

*participating in class discussions and activities

*understanding assignments

*brainstorming and developing ideas that fit each new writing situation

*writing successful rough drafts

*seeking out feedback and revising your papers

*working collaboratively with the teacher and your classmates

*knowing what other resources and support services are available to you


Campus Safety (from UW website): Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. If you're concerned, tell someone. Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger. Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.

    Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).

    Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at

For more information visit the SafeCampus website at


 Q Center (from group website): The University of Washington Q Center builds and facilitates queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit, trans, intersex, questioning, same-gender-loving, allies) academic and social community through education, advocacy, and support services to achieve a socially-just campus in which all people are valued. For more information, visit

FIUTS (from group website): Foundation for International Understanding through Students: FIUTS is an example of a campus organization that can bring together your social and academic learning. "FIUTS is an independent non-profit organization which provides cross-cultural leadership and social programming for UW's international and globally minded domestic students. FIUTS is local connections and global community!" FIUTS also offers a free international lunch on the last Wednesday of every month. Consult FIUTS' web site for a detailed calendar of events and links to many resources


Some writing do’s and don’ts.

Assume that the reader is familiar with the novels in question and do not devote time to describing the plot of the text. Structure essays with a short introduction in which you indicate what is significant about the issue you have chosen to write on (also known as articulating ‘the stakes’). To establish this importance, please do not make huge generalizations as in ‘empire is all around us’ but instead identity what is important about the issue for an understanding of the novel. You might also outline the argument that your essay will pursue. Your essay should then move to a substantial discussion that gives the analysis and presents your argument. End with a conclusion that sums up your discussion and draws out its implications for further understanding of the literary text.

Regarding essay style: I like the use of the first person to present your argument. If you are uncomfortable using the first person, however, don’t do it: just be careful to write in a way that foregrounds your own argument and avoids the appearance of descriptiveness or derivativeness.

Regarding essay titles: I like essay titles that set up a concept, or issue, to be explored. I do not like essay titles that set up an imperative such as ‘Discuss the treatment of Englishness in…’ (better would be ‘Englishness in…)  Nor do I like essay titles that present a direct question, such as ‘How pessimistic is Armah’s writing?’ (better would be ‘Pessimism and Armah’)

Here are some 'do nots'. Doing these will lower your grade; these are pet peeves .

Do not describe the literary text. [Instead, analyse it.]

Do not make sweeping generalisations (eg, about the history of the world, the nature of human psychology, such as 'it is widely known that Western culture is essentially dominatory').[Instead, keep your comments precise, specific, and supported by scholarship and observation.]

Do not give empirical information (eg, information about a historical period) without giving a source for your information in the footnotes.

Do not misuse the apostrophe (this includes using ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’; using apostrophes before an ‘s’ to indicate a plural noun, omitting to use them to mark possession).

Do not misuse commas by inserting them incorrectly or by omitting to use them.

Do not write paragraphs that are one double-spaced page or longer.

Do not use the past tense when analyzing a text. Use the present tense. That is, instead of ‘This author wrote/this character said’ write ‘This author writes/this character says’.

Do not use dangling modifiers, such as ‘Having finished her assignment, the television was turned on’.

Do not write sentences that aren’t sentences because they lack a verb.

Make sure that the sentence subject and verb agree.

Remember when writing essays on fiction to avoid writing about characters as if they are real. Instead, if you want to explore characterisation, you need to analyse the way that the writer constructs characters, and what the significance of this literary construction might be.

Avoid writing about characters, or a single character, as if they constitute the whole of the literary text. Remember that a fictional text consists of much more than its characters. Other elements of a text include: narrative structure; imagery; language; ideology; intertextual relationship to other texts.

In short: keep your emphasis on analyzing the text—its ideas, its structure, and its style.

Standard Grading System

Numerical grades may be considered equivalent to letter grades as follows:


























Lowest passing grade.



Academic failure.
No credit earned.



Catalog Description: 
Explores the novel in English from the first half of the twentieth century. May include such writers as Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, E.M. Forster, Claude McKay, Elizabeth Bowen, Raja Rao, William Faulkner, Jean Rhys, and Edith Wharton. Includes history and changing aesthetics of the novel as form, alongside the sociohistorical context.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:30pm