English 125B

The English Novel (Dickens through Conrad)

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2018 Puckett, Kent
TTh 3:30-5 3 Le Conte


In this class we'll read novels by Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, W.M. Thackeray, and others. We'll think about these novels in two related ways. First, what was it about the novel—as opposed, for instance, to the poem or the essay—that made it so important to nineteenth-century culture (as well as to our more or less accurate twenty-first-century ideas about that culture)? Was it because it showed the world as it really was or because it offered an opportunity to imagine it as it ought to be? Was it because it said something persuasive or true about life, about other people, about history, about politics, about sex, love or money? What, in other words, were nineteenth-century readers reading (and reading for) when they read Jane Eyre or Vanity Fair or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? Second, we'll use “The English Novel: Dickens through Conrad” to ask and, perhaps, to answer persistent questions about the novel as such. What is a novel? Why are novels (sometimes) so long? Is a novel most about its characters or most about its plot? Should the novel educate or entertain? Thinking about the novel as a particular game with particular rules (“‘I don't think they play at all fairly,’ Alice began…") will help us both to understand the novel in its context and maybe to know what we talk about when we talk about novels.

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