English 166

Special Topics: Realism, Then and Now

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Spring 2019 Cordes Selbin, Jesse
MW 5-6:30 211 Dwinelle

Book List

Coleridge, S. T. , and Wordsworth, W.: Lyrical Ballads, 1798 and 1800; Eliot, George: Adam Bede; Smith, Zadie: White Teeth

Other Readings and Media

You will also need to acquire a copy of at least one contemporary (post-2001) novel of your choice--see description below.

Course reader including additional readings from figures such as Charles Dickens, George Henry Lewes, Gustave Flaubert, John Ruskin, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Emile Zola, Olive Schreiner, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Alejo Carpentier, Jorge Luis Borges, Salman Rushdie, Erich Auerbach, Georg Lukács, Roland Barthes, and others.


This course explores the relationship between life and literature, with a focus on the following types of questions: How have novelists and poets—as well as filmmakers, television producers, and Instagram aficionados—attempted to represent real life in the modern age? Is realism defined more by a focus on common objects and recognizable experiences, or on the familiarity of the language used to describe them? How do conceptions of the real transform across different eras, authors, or genres? In this course, we will analyze classical literary realism and a wide variety of responses to it. We will begin by studying the relationship of Dutch Golden Age painting to literary realism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Next we’ll examine the ways in which subsequent literary movements—Naturalism, Modernism, magical realism, “hysterical realism,” and peripheral realisms—inherited, rejected, or adapted realist assumptions and conventions. Alongside these literary cases, we will investigate the surprising tenacity of the realist mode in more recent popular genres and media: cinematic neorealism, documentaries, sitcoms, “reality television,” and the reemergence of a trompe-l’oeil aesthetic in contemporary visual culture and social media. For a final project, students will select one or more post-2001 novels of their choice to situate within current debates about realism and to analyze in relation to the history of realism traced by the course.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

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