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In nineteenth-century Britain, the novel took on the world. Shaking off its early disrepute, and taking advantage of growing literacy and innovations in production and distribution, it achieved in this period an unrivalled synthesis of mass appeal and aesthetic and social ambition. Its representational aspirations were breathtaking: attempting to comprehend in its pages the dizzying complexity of new social, political, and economic structures, as well as to delineate in finest detail the texture of individual lives and minds. In an age obsessed with the social, it engaged directly with the most compelling issues of the day, including industrialization and the gap between rich and poor, the role of women, nationalism and imperialism, and more broadly, the very nature of historical change itself. But it did so, for the most part, by telling fine-grained stories of ordinary men and women, people trying to make a living, worrying about their families and their neighbors, facing illness and death, and falling in–and sometimes out of–love. Since so many of these stories remain highly accessible works of popular culture, we will work hard to focus on what is strange and specific about the fiction of the nineteenth century, while also recognizing the roots of much that is modern in our own culture. We will also take seriously their social ambitions, looking especially at the ways they formulate, promote, and contest their readers’ understanding of themselves as subjects and agents of an ongoing social history. Likely authors include Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and George Eliot.
Format: seminar; This class will be remote only, with two synchronous discussions of 50 min each per week and a mix of mini-lectures, brainstorming documents, etc. for the remaining 50 min/week.
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
Heavy (but entertaining!) reading load. Flexible writing requirement includes options for short essays, weekly journal, creative work, and research paper. Students must complete 4 units of writing, with the research paper, if chosen, counting for two. There will be additional bits of informal writing, evaluated as part of the class contribution grade, such as participating in the production of a "brainstorming" doc on Google.
100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature Exam, or 6 or 7 on Higher Level IB English exam, or permission of instructor
English majors, Women's, Gender and Sexuality majors, Comparative Literature majors, seniors
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ENGL Literary Histories B