English 100

Junior Seminar: Three Nineteenth-Century British Novels

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
14 Fall 2004 Booth, Stephen
Booth, Stephen
TTh 5-6:30 109 Wheeler
Other Readings and Media

Austen, J., Pride and Prejudice; Dickens, C., Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend; Shakespeare, W., 1 Henry IV; Shaw, G.B., Pygmalion


"Big nineteenth-century novels are noted for sprawling. The novels of Charles Dickens are particularly noted for sprawling. I want this course to show you that genuine sprawl can and often does coexist with organizations of wholes and parts as precise and delicate in their scale as the smaller, usually cruder ones that commonly thrust themselves upon one's consciousness when one reads a short, openly delicate lyric.

I mean to spend at least half the in-class time of the course on two examples of precision sprawl--Dickens's Bleak House and his Our Mutual Friend.

I will want first, however, to look just as hard at one other great nineteenth-century British novel--Pride and Prejudice--and one notable but academically uncelebrated twentieth-century novel: EITHER Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles--1920--or her The Secret Adversary--1922 (I haven't decided which and don't expect to before July, but since you will need to buy neither, the delay shouldn't matter).

My reason for including one of the Christie books in a course labeled ""nineteenth-century"" is that it's difficult to be pretentious in talking about books that are still genuinely popular. Christie books are obviously pleasure machines. Pride and Prejudice and the two Dickens books are too, but they have now been so long, so deep in so many kinds of pretentious interpretation that it is easy to think of them as thesis mines. We will begin the course with a Christie book because it is an uncluttered site from which to see what fictions do to pleasure readers. After that, it should be easy to look at Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend as the mere sources of casual delight that they are.

Justifying the presence of Pygmalion-which is neither nineteenth-century nor a novel--is not so easy. Suffice it to say that, by the time you've read both Our Mutual Friend and it, the presence of Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion on the reading list will be obvious. The same is true of Melville?s Bartleby the Scrivener-an 1856 novella that relates to Bleak House in much the way Pygmalion does to Our Mutual Friend.

(You can get Bartleby, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and The Secret Adversary free on the internet; go to www.gutenberg.net; put BARTLEBY [or either Christie title] into the title box; click on ""search,"" and download the complete text. I don't think you need buy hard copies of either Bartleby or the Christie novel I finally choose.

In fact, you can get the whole reading list from www.gutenberg, if you like. At the first class meeting, we can talk about the practicality of substituting free e-texts for expensive book store copies.)

I will also ask you to read Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV. I will want it fresh in your minds when we start on Our Mutual Friend.

I will assign three essays--each of a length determined by the amount you have to say and your skill in saying it economically. The third essay will take the place of a final examination.

I will give daily quizzes to make sure everyone keeps up with the reading. "

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