English R1A

Reading and Composition: Big Novels

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Spring 2013 Ling, Jessica
TTh 8-9:30 222 Wheeler

Book List

Dickens, Charles: Bleak House; Eliot, George: Middlemarch; Eliot, George: Selected Essays, Poems, and Other Writings

Other Readings and Media

Additional articles and secondary sources in a course reader posted on b-space.


Around the mid-nineteenth century, novels--like the British populace that wrote them--began to increase in size. Those peculiar and numerous Victorians were as famous for their queen as they were for their massive, unwieldy novels. In this class, we will tackle two great ones, vastly different in orientation, but similarly vast in their worlds, plots, characters and page count. We’ll witness the novel at the height of its “bigness”, a “bigness” that inspired Henry James’s vexed question, “ what do such large, loose, baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary, artistically mean?.” By way of asking what these novels mean, we will consider their relationship to particular social and cultural worlds, the evolution of the novel as a literary form, and more contemporary theorizations of the novel. As we develop papers of increasing length and complexity, we will ask what it means to write long things, and what can be gained from reading them.

This class seeks to hone writing skills, with particular attention to exposition and argument. In addition to weekly readings, a series of short writing assignments and longer analytic essays will be assigned. We’ll refine these essays through a combination of workshops and individual conferences.  All students are welcome, though avid readers and early risers are especially encouraged.

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