English R1A

Reading and Composition: Stranger than Fiction: Metafiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Spring 2018 Ripplinger, Michelle
MWF 2-3 134 Dwinelle

Book List

Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey; Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue; Morrison, Toni: Tar Baby; Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Other Readings and Media

We will screen one film, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, as well as selected episodes from 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and The Simpsons.

Additional readings will be made available via bCourses, including possible selections from William Langland's Piers Plowman, Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Samuel Beckett's Watt, Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw," etc.


In this course, we’ll be reading, thinking, and writing about metafiction: fiction about fiction. Frame narratives, dream visions, plays-within-plays: these are just a few examples of the metafictional techniques that can be found in self-reflexive fiction. What purposes do such metafictional strategies serve? What literary effects do they create? In order to better understand the theory and practice of metafiction, we will consider several different historical moments and ask of each what forms self-referential fiction takes and to what effect. We will situate each creative work in relation to its own moment, but we will also ask how these works, medieval and modern alike, speak to each other. We will wonder, for instance, what the frame narrative of the Canterbury Tales has to do with the narratological strategies of Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby. We will ask how the rude mechanicals' play-within-a-play in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream relates to Jane Austen’s representations of Gothic novels in Northanger Abbey.

We will be thinking a lot about metafiction, then, but our engagement with these works will be guided by an underlying goal, which is to focus on your writing. In order to refine the core skills of critical reading and analytical thinking—essential tools for writing insightful and persuasively argued papers—the course requires three essays and will culminate in a final presentation. A peer-review process will provide added support as we approach writing a college-level analytical paper as a cumulative series of distinct and individually manageable steps. By the end of the semester, you will have produced at least thirty-two pages of writing, including both drafts and revisions.

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