English 180N

The Novel: "The Novel as the Book of Other People"

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2017 Hale, Dorothy J.
MW 5-6:30 108 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

See the course description, below.

A course reader is also required.  Details TBA.


In 2007, Zadie Smith edited an anthology of short fiction entitled The Book of Other People.  In her preface to this volume, Smith describes her desire to give contemporary writers the opportunity to try on “different skins,” to wander “into landscapes one would not have placed them in previously.”  In 1993, Toni Morrison had already stressed the potentially high stakes of seeking out an encounter with difference through the novel.  Morrison declared her work as a novelist to be not just the imagination of “others,” but the risky encounter with strange or alien value systems: “to project consciously into the danger zones such others may represent for me.”

This course explores major works of Anglo-American fiction that link the value of the novel as a literary genre to the ethical, social or political good of encountering people different from oneself.   Within this tradition, the aesthetic accomplishment of the novel is linked to its formal resources for depicting otherness.  Students should be prepared to read widely.  The literary tradition that we are studying includes George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871), William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931), Toni Morrison's Sula (1973), J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) and Elizabeth Costello (2003), and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005).  Lectures will focus on the narrative techniques that each novelist develops in response to the value and difficulty of knowing and representing social others.  We will consider how these narrative techniques contribute to an aesthetics of otherness, which by 2007 confers upon the novel a privileged status as the literary genre most qualified to be “the book of other people.”

Written course requirements include two seven-page papers and a final exam.

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