Readings in Narrative Literature from 1800

L629 — Fall 2019

Ivan Kreilkamp
Days and Times
1:00 - 2:15p TR (4 CR)
Course Description

Topic: George Eliot, Henry James, and the Rise of Novel Theory

*Class is open to graduates only*

In 1907, Henry James famously described the long, capacious novels of the nineteenth century as “large loose baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary.” James is sometimes considered to be the first to develop a self-aware “theory” of “the novel”: to conceptualize the novel as a distinct form with its own non-accidental and non-arbitary properties. But James’ theoretical-critical project itself emerged out of both Victorian fiction, and the nineteenth-century criticism and essays that first attempted to analyze, interpret, and conceptualize that fiction. We’ll begin this class by reading some key nineteenth-century novel criticism — work by, among others, David Masson, George Henry Lewes, Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake, Margaret Oliphant, Walter Bagehot, Leslie Stephen, and George Eliot — that attempted to theorize and define the workings of fiction before a true theory of fiction had been formulated. Then we’ll read George Eliot’s two great novels of the 1870s, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, and the James novel that can be read as a response to and synthesis of those Eliot texts, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)— possibly along with a later, shorter James novel, What Maisie Knew (along with some scholarship on these novels specifically). We’ll then finally turn to the emergence of something approaching a more recognizable “novel theory” in the early 20th century: in the work of the likes of Henry James’s acolyte Percy Lubbock, Virginia Woolf, Victor Shklovsky, Georg Lukacs, and Mikhail Bakhtin. A central goal of the class will be to defamiliarize the histories of both nineteenth-century fiction, and 20th-century novel theory, by reconsidering them as part of one complex lineage. Assignments will probably include a midterm and final paper, shorter response papers, and classroom discussion facilitation.

Interested in this course?

The full details of this course are available on the Office of the Registrar website.

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