Instructor: James Wood Monday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.
A look at the complex ways in which writers represent their characters' thought in texts by Austen, Flaubert, James, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Giovanni Verga, and Woolf. More broadly, traces the development of stream-of-consciousness, from Austen's incipient mastery of free indirect style, through Flaubert's more sophisticated use of it, to Woolf's full-blown inner monologues, seeing this development as not merely a fact of English and American literature, but as a phenomenon of world literature and an element of our modernity.
In this class we'll read at least five of Austen’s novels and study the contribution they made to the remaking of modern fiction. Though our emphasis will fall on these works’ place in the literary culture of Austen’s day and on their historical contexts in an era of revolution, we’ll also acknowledge the strong and ardent feelings that Austen’s oeuvre continues to arouse today. To that end, we’ll do some investigating of the frequently wild world of contemporary Austen fandom and the Austenian tourism, shopping, adaptations, and sequels that nurture it. At the same time, we’ll remember that Austen knew fandom from both sides; part of our work will be to learn about the early-nineteenth-century culture of literary appreciation in which Austen enrolled the heroines of her novels and enrolled herself.
What does the novel still have to offer? As newer genres—movies, television, Youtube, TikTok—compete for our attention, why do people still immerse themselves long works of prose fiction? And why do certain nineteenth-century British novels continue to captivate so many readers to this day? In this course, we will read five nineteenth-century novels by five authors that many consider to be the greatest writers that have ever lived: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. We will pay close attention to technique: how do these novels work? And we will also explore social and political themes: what are these novels about? At every stage, we will consider the unique capacities of narrative fiction: what can the novel do that other genres can’t? Implicitly and explicitly, this course will argue first, that these superlative nineteenth-century novels let us see the world (not only then but also now) in new ways, and second, that the novel is a tool for thinking that beats all others. Alongside these texts, we will watch film adaptations and read excerpts of contemporary criticism and fiction to better understand the enduring legacy of these canonical works.