The Contemporary Novel: Two Paths and The Female Character
Using Zadie Smith’s essay “Two Paths for the Novel” this course engages both experimental and realist contemporary novels, with a special eye toward those featuring strong female characters. We focus as well on issues of privacy and forms of the public that attend them; art-making too is a leitmotif. Thus, we will engage Claire Messud—either her 2013 The Woman Upstairs, which raised a demi-brouhaha about the issue of likeability in regard to female characters; or her latest novel, The Burning Girl, a tale of female friendship and betrayal. (Or both.) We’ll read the British novelist Zadie Smith and her first first-person novel about female friendship and its variants, Swing Time; the American Jenny Offill’s Dept. Of Speculation; the Scottish author Ali Smith’s How to Be Both— which is divided into two parts, and was published in two different formats, so how you read the novel varied from book to book, and reader to reader. We may also venture to the minimalist work of Danish author Dorthe Nors. There will be others; write me if you think Gone Girl is worth it. We read roughly a novel a week, so you have to be able to be in control of your schedule and your super-ego. This latter is an excellent skill.
In addition to wanting to read some excellent novels, there are several other reasons you might take this class: interests in 1. literary form; 2. novels about and/or by women; 3. the relation between public and private and 4. an interest in thinking critically about the issue of, as critic Blakey Vermeule puts it, “why we care about literary characters.”
Assessment will be based on response papers, active and informed participation, 2 papers, and some possible quizzes to keep you honest.