English R1A

Reading & Composition: Snobbery

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2012 Ling, Jessica
MWF 9-10 222 Wheeler

Book List

Howells, William Dean: The Rise of Silas Lapham; Smith, Zadie: On Beauty;

Recommended: Franzen, Jonathan : The Corrections; Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth

Other Readings and Media

Course reader includes: selections from The Book of Snobs and Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray. "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists," George Eliot. "Am I Snob?," Virginia Woolf. "A Portrait of the Hipster," Anatole Broyard. "Positions" from What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Investigation, "What Was the Hipster?" from New York Magazine, Mark Grief. "On Douchebags," Robert Moor. Selections from Distinction, Pierre Bourdieu. Selections from Oedipus Unbound, René Girard. Selected articles on Oprah/Franzen controversy. 

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers suggested, but not required.


We know a snob when we see one, though snobbery itself is curiously hard to define. Is it a process of making aesthetic distinctions or social ones? Or both? How do the choices we make every day – reading the right books, riding the right bike, eating with the right fork, measuring a hem – define the company we keep? And if we label someone else a snob, are we ourselves snobs? Thackeray writes: “You must not judge hastily or vulgarly of Snobs: to do so shows that you yourself are a Snob. I myself have been taken for one.” Tracing the figure of the snob from Victorian London to Williamsburg (circa 2004), from third wave coffee shops to the ivory tower, we’ll watch how the snob precariously positions himself in a field of judgment while maintaining a cautious sense of our own snobbery. We’ll also consider the novel’s place in training its readers to be good snobs. How does the novel correlate social positions with aesthetic taste? Is narration always an act of snobbery? And how does the novel position itself as an object of taste – what happens when bad literature aspires to be good?

This class seeks to hone writing skills, with particular attention to exposition and argument. In addition to weekly readings, a series of short essays (2-4 pages) will be assigned, beginning with a diagnostic. We’ll refine these essays through a combination of workshops and individual conferences. 

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