English R1B

Reading and Composition: Epic Romance, Novel Histories: Chronicling Fiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Fall 2020 Vinyard Boyle, Elizabeth
MWF 12-1

Book List

Boccaccio, Giovanni: The Decameron; Camus, Albert: The Plague; Defoe, Daniel: A Journal of the Plague Year; García Márquez, Gabriel: Love in the Time of Cholera; Shakespeare, William: Richard II

Other Readings and Media

Shorter readings will include Thucydides, Homer, Virgil, Malory, Marguerite de Navarre, Nashe, Spenser, Cervantes, Scott, Austen, Twain, and Mantel, as well as secondary criticism and theory, and will be made available as a course reader or by pdf.


What does it mean to tell a history of history-telling?  What are the stakes for narrating, recording, or imagining events and eras through inherited (epic, romance) or novel genres—what is gained or lost, and what relation to past and future selves does each conceive or make possible?  How does a created sense of past inform our capacity for knowing, reimagining, or even changing our present world—and what would it mean to speak of secret or alternate histories?  This course will move through interlocking genealogies of signature (and literary) modes of history-telling, as we meditate upon and develop answers to the related questions of fiction in history, fictional histories, and a history of fiction.  We will read renaissance and contemporary translations of classical history and epic, Shakespeare’s history plays against modern renderings of nation myth, Arthurian romance and the historical novel, and novels of existential and magical realisms.  Our readings will culminate in a historical case study of real, imagined, and fictional accounts of living through plague, from the annals of ancient Greece to the modern and postmodern novel.

As we articulate a shared vocabulary and begin to explore what each of our central terms might mean—for history, for our present, for posterity—we will also think about what it means to read and write from different genres and moments in history, working through a series of short responses and assignments that build toward a final research paper.  In the process we will become more flexible and critical readers by developing our capacity to write about the facts of fiction, through the reflective lens of our own historical selves.

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