English R50

Freshman and Sophomore Studies: Literary Frauds

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2010 Naumovska, Slavica
Naumovska, Slavica
TTh 11-12:30 222 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Defoe, Daniel: Moll Flanders; Behn, Aphra: Oroonoko; Fforde, Jasper: The Eyre Affair

Recommended: Ruthven, K.K.: Faking Literature


Western literary history, especially since the eighteenth century, is full of impostors and forgeries. Since Chatterton purported to “discover” a fifteenth-century poet and his contemporary Macpherson faked an ancient Celtic epic, there have been many instances of literary fraud to amuse, perplex, or outrage the reading public. Most recently, James Frey (A Million Little Pieces) was taken severely to task for fabricating parts of his best-selling memoir. Within a month of this scandal, the identity of the popular “autobiographical” author, J. T. LeRoy, was exposed as a fake. Both these recent exposés have reawakened a very old debate that we seem not yet to have resolved in our culture concerning the worth of literature and the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. By what values do we judge literature? Are truth and authenticity the most important values? Or are works of literature—even those claiming to be true—best understood as performance? We will address these larger questions through topics such as the status of the “truth claim” in modern literature; authenticity and originality as categories of style; and the rise of the novel in literary history. This course satisfies the second half of the reading and composition requirement. In addition to refining the composition skills learned in R1A, we will focus on incorporating research successfully into argumentation, and introducing the fundamentals of literary study for the English major.

English R50 is intended for students who are planning to be English majors and who have already taken R1A. It satisfies the College’s R1B requirement.

This course may not be counted as one of the twelve courses required for the English major.

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