COMP 239
The Novel in Theory Fall 2014
Division I Writing Skills
Cross-listed COMP 239 / ENGL 240
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Class Details

In spite of its title, this is not a course about merely theoretical novels, unwritten or dreamily imagined works of fiction that never see the page. Rather, this course will be an introduction to the different ways that literary critics have attempted to give a literary genre as loose, baggy, miscellaneous, and altogether hard-to-pin down as the novel a theoretical framework, to understand how the genre developed and how it functions. For the first couple of centuries of its existence in Britain and America, the novel was considered too popular, too commercial and unserious, and not sufficiently stylistically accomplished to merit anything like its own dedicated criticism or theory. Even now, critics can have a hard time even agreeing upon what a novel is, much less what constitutes a theory of the novel. Henry James, for example, said a novel’s only duty was “to be interesting,” which, when you think about it, really casts a pretty broad and abstract generic net. Today, novel theory is legion. To only name a few, one can find theories of the novel that identify themselves as formalist, psychoanalytic, post-structuralist, Marxist, historical, and post-colonial, as well as accounts that emphasize sexuality and gender, for example, or the novel’s trans-national development. Rather than try for an encyclopedic survey of either the novel or its theories, this course will use two or three novels as a means of testing out a range of representative works of novel theory. We will move back and forth from the theory of the novel to its practice in order to see how novel theory has developed over the past century, as well to see how the novel’s own academic and popular fortunes relate to its theoretical accounts. Theorists are likely to include Henry James, Shklovsky, Benjamin, Lukacs, Barthes, Watt, McKeon, Jameson, D.A. Miller, Sedgwick, and Said. Novelists may include Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, or Henry James.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 1522
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: 4-5 papers; regular, substantial, and intensive participation in class
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preferences: sophomores and first-year students who have not yet taken an ENGL Gateway course
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
COMP 239 Division I ENGL 240 Division I
Attributes: ENGL Criticism Courses
ENGL 200-level Gateway Courses
ENGL Literary Histories B

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