Department of English Department of English College of Arts and Sciences
Course Descriptions
Novelty and the Early Novel, 1660-1750

In this course, we will examine the “rise” or “invention” or “elevation” or “origin” or “evolution” or “true story” of what was, perhaps, the newest and most pervasive of the many inter-related literary genres competing for cultural ascendance in England between the mid-seventeenth and the mid-eighteenth century: the eponymous novel.  Although it is now difficult for us to think of the novel as something that could ever have been new, during its formative years the novel provoked considerable anxiety among critics who identified the genre as an upstart which seemed not to have classical precedent and who associated it with gossip-mongering, knock-about farce, veiled pornography, and printed trash.  This course will analyze why the early novel provoked such anxiety, how early novelists attempted self-consciously to legitimize prose fiction by theorizing it, and what caused this theory to be at frequent odds with the actual practice of writing and reading.  What was new about the novel and how did writers exploit the genre’s novelty so as alternately to divert and instruct a mass market of readers who were invariably also pleasure-seekers?  What were the generic characteristics of the early novel and how were these influenced by the devices of contemporary literary and para-literary genres: theatrical entertainment, continental romance, amatory fiction, criminal biography, picaresque tale, verse satire, scientific treatise, spiritual autobiography, conduct manual, chap-book,  handbill and advertisement, travel narrative, town vade-mecum, and periodical essay, among others?  Why was the novel able to assimilate the content of these genres into is capacious form?  How, ultimately, did novel writing and reading come to be institutionalized as worthwhile activities? By placing novelistic texts by Bunyan, Behn, Defoe, Swift, Haywood, Richardson, and Fielding in their original social, political, religious, epistemological, bibliographic, commercial, and, in general, cultural contexts, this course will introduce students not only to the emergent novel, but to the world that produced what has become the modern literary genre.

Required Reading.  John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. W.R. Owens (Oxford, 2009); Aphra Behn, Oroonoko and Other Writings, ed. Paul Salzman (Oxford, 2009);  The Commerce of Everyday Life: Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator, ed. Erin Mackie (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998); Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, ed. Albert J. Rivero (Norton, 2003); Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, eds. Claude Rawson and Ian Higgins (Oxford, 2005); Eliza Haywood, Fantomina and other Works, eds. Alexander Petit, Margaret Case Croskery, and Anna C. Patchias (Broadview, 2004); Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, eds. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely (Oxford, 2001); Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews and Shamela, ed. Douglas Brooks-Davies, Martin C. Battestin, and Thomas Kemyer (Oxford, 1999).

Method of Instruction.  Lectures, with a strong emphasis on classroom discussion.

Method of Evaluation.  One reading test (10%), written in-class on October 6th; one 750-word  Lonely Planet London, 1660-1750 report (15%), due at some point prior to the last day of classes; one 2,000 to 2,500-word essay (35%), due November 22nd; one three-hour final examination (30%); informed participation in classroom discussion (10%).

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Last Updated: 3/6/12