Department of English Department of English College of Arts and Sciences
Fall 2011 Course Descriptions

[Re]Writing British Literature: “We are already what others may hope to become.”TM

In Julian Barnes’ novel England, England, Jerry Batson, alternately known as a “consultant to the elect” and a common ad-man, proposes to do nothing less than save the decaying Grande Dame of the British Empire from the destructive forces of time through careful marketing and PR.  In a patriotic speech to the powerful and wealthy Sir Jack Pitman, he argues,

Britain had once held dominion over great tracts of the world’s surface, painted it pink from pole to pole.  As time went by, these imperial possessions had spun off and set themselves up as sovereign nations.  Quite right, too.  So where did that leave us now?  With something called the United Kingdom which, to be honest and facing facts, didn’t live up to its adjective. … You – we –  England – my client – is – are – a nation of great age, great history, great accumulated wisdom.    Social and cultural history – stacks of it, reams of it – eminently marketable, never more so than in the current climate.  Shakespeare, Queen Victoria, Industrial Revolution, gardening, that sort of thing.  If I may coin, no, copyright, a phrase, We are already what others may hope to become.  This isn’t self-pity, this is the strength of our position, our glory, our product placement.  We are the new pioneers.  We must sell our past to other nations as their future!

In this seminar, we will look at how contemporary British and Commonwealth literature pursues this strategy of “marketing” the past through rewriting that same past, whether real or idealized, into the present or even the future.  We will consider the tradition of “writing back” in Postcolonial and/or Commonwealth literature as both celebratory and critical of the English tradition in works such as Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and J.M. Coetzee’s Foe.  These texts will contrast with works of fan fiction such as Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes’ series, Carole Nelson Douglas’ Irene Adler Adventures and Laurie King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.  We will look at texts such as Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Sarah Waters’ Affinity to examine how past notions of sexuality, gender and romance haunt the Neo-Victorian trend.   In reading Salman Rushdie’s controversial work, The Satanic Verses, we will consider questions of textuality, interpretation and the role of literature in contemporary international politics.  Finally, we will turn to a work such as A.S. Byatt’s Possession to problematize concepts of time, progress and the certainty of both literary theory and literature itself.

Students should contact the instructor at regarding reading materials for the first class meeting and ISBN information for specific editions of the novels.  Although not a course requirement, students would benefit from some familiarity with the following works of the past: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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