English R1A

Reading and Composition: Novel Experiences: The Social Imaginary of Private Reading

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Fall 2006 Ryan P. McDermott
TTh 8-9:30 204 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

"Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Frances Burney, Evelina

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A short course reader containing several short stories and other material related to course topic. "


"In 1913, the social philosopher George Mead declared, �It is fair to say that the modern western world has lately done much of its thinking in the form of the novel.� For Mead, it seems, novels had not only begun to test and represent developments in social theory, but also they had created a �space� of private reading in which �the social��that is, the concept of society�had begun to be evaluated and influenced by novel reading itself. Mead anticipated what in current literary studies is often referred to as the �social imaginary,� or the imagined interplay between personal identity and society that takes place when we read novels. We will begin with a focus on the term itself by asking: What does it mean to say that there is an imaginary dimension to the social? This course is designed to trace the development of the �social imaginary� in English literature during the period that has been referred to as the �rise of the English novel��beginning in the late eighteenth century and concluding with the end of the Victorian period (roughly 1778-1900). Since �the social� includes both writers and readers, our focus will be twofold: on the one hand, we will consider the development of the novel as a literary form that became capable of representing the social; on the other, we will think about the changing conceptions of novel reading itself, and or of what it meant to be a novel reader.

Each of the texts we will read is engaged by conflicts between traditional social forms (for example, class, gender, and marriage) and new forms of personal mobility, self-determination, and individuality. We will pay particular attention to the novel�s capacity to evoke both literal and figurative representations of the social. For example, we will spend time thinking about novelistic techniques such as satire, parody, irony, and imitation, all of which depend on a symbolic interaction with a reader. In addition, we will consider literary representations of social issues such as publicity and privacy, the role of gender and sexuality in society, and the relationship between the author and her or his text.

Our dual focus on writers and readers will lead us to consider how the novel not only offered escape and entertainment to those who read them, but also proved to be a flexible and expansive medium of social intervention and commentary. Along the way, we will take into account various questions that emerged in society about the concept of novel reading itself: for example, do novels educate and improve their readers, or do they distract and corrupt them? By tracing the �social imaginary� during the rise of the novel, we will see how the novel acquired new powers and provoked new debates and relations among both readers and writers.

In this course, we will be concerned with developing critical thinking and analytical writing skills. More specifically, we will practice applying our close reading skills of literary texts to the writing of solid analytical prose. Our journey through the world of �exposition and argumentation� (two of the main foci of this course) will include visits at the following destinations: grammar; sentence and paragraph construction; essay structure; thesis development; proper use of evidence; and style. The majority of class time will revolve around class discussions and in-class workshops that will allow us to practice and build upon our close reading skills, and then work to �translate� these skills into writing.

Over the course of the semester, each student will be assigned five papers and a number of short take-home assignments. Class time will frequently be spent on group work and in-class writing. Three of the papers will involve a primary draft, a peer editing phase, and then the revision and resubmission of a final draft to the instructor for a grade. Students can expect to receive a substantial amount of commentary from the instructor on all five essays.

Constant attendance, frequent in-class participation, and dedication to the reading are required for this course. "

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