English R1B

Reading and Composition: On Lives Unlived: Frustration, Hope, and the Novel

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
18 Spring 2018 Xin, Wendy Veronica
Note new time: MW 12-1:30 Note new location: 301 Wheeler

Book List

Austen, Jane: Persuasion; Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre; Dickens, Charles: Great Expectations; Didion, Joan: The Year of Magical Thinking; Ishiguro, Kazuo: Never Let Me Go


Roads untaken, opportunities unpursued, the people we might have known, and the losses of what might have been – what are the potentials and pitfalls locked within fictions of alternate realities? Why does our knowledge of what could have taken place often hold more sway over us than what, concretely, is or has been? This course will think about alternate histories and fantasies of other forms of existence in various registers: as regret for a lost love (in the case of Persuasion), as a longing for inclusion (in Jane Eyre), as the wish, hidden within the folds of loss, that something that happened, didn’t (in The Year of Magical Thinking), or even as the desire to be ontologically different than what one is (in Never Let Me Go). In each of these instances, we will return time and again to several questions: how does the form of the novel refract these structures of loss and reconciliation, frustration and desire, despair and hope, disappointment and happiness? What is the affirmative capacity of seemingly negative experiences like absence, exclusion, or loss? And, finally, how does the work of literary criticism fit into the landscape of disenchantment and re-enchantment? In so doing, we will collectively pore over theories of modalities like the “optative” and the “counterfactual,” psychoanalytic accounts of melancholy, and recent arguments about the radical transformative potential of returning to the scene of grief in order to generate a new kind of intelligence, and of hope. This is a writing-intensive course that will culminate in a 15-20 page research paper – in addition to crafting a sustained inquiry into the aforementioned topics, students will be expected to scrutinize the act and task of writing as, itself, a critical consolidation of the cycle of difficult un-building and exhilarating re-buildings thematized and formalized in the fiction we will study.

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