21L.471 | Spring 2009 | Undergraduate

Major English Novels


Course Assignments

There are two assignments for this course: Early Novels assignment and 19th-20th Century Novels assignment. The details for each assignment are given below.

Early Novels Assignment (7 - 10 pages, due in Ses #13)

1. “The novel differs from the prose romance in that a greater degree of realism is expected of it, and that it tends to describe a recognizable secular social world, often in a skeptical and prosaic manner inappropriate to the marvels of romance.” Dictionary of Literary Terminology, 152.

2. “What is often felt as the formlessness of the novel, as compared, say, with tragedy or the ode, probably follows from this: the poverty of the novel’s formal conventions would seem to be the price it must pay for its realism.” Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, 13.

3. “The novel could be considered established only when realistic narrative was organized into a plot which, while retaining Defoe’s lifelikeness, also had an intrinsic coherence; when the novelist’s eye was focused on character and personal relationships as essential elements in the total structure, and not merely as subordinate instruments for furthering the verisimilitude of the actions described; and when all these were related to a controlling moral intention.” Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, 131.

or choose one of the following:

4. Moll Flanders purports to be an autobiography; Evelina is told in letters; and Pride and Prejudice features a third person narrator. Are these narrative styles a matter of chronology (i.e. dictated by the time in which the novels were written?) or of authorial choice? How do the different narrative styles force you to read differently?

5. “The history of a young inconsiderate girl, whose little foibles, without any natural vices of the mind, involve her in difficulties and distresses, which, by correcting, make her wise, and deservedly happy in the end. A heroine like this, cannot but lay an author under much disadvantage… It is a barren foundation for a novel.” Ralph Griffith’s review of Eliza Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, Monthly Review, 1751. If the history of a young girl is but a “barren foundation” for a novel, why did so many early novels concern themselves with precisely that?

19th-20th Century Novels Assignment (7 - 10 pages, due in Ses #26)

1. “Many critics of the novel have implicitly or explicitly separated canonical authors, such as Richardson, Austen, Dickens, and Eliot, from the popular novels that influenced them and along side of which their work was read, in the interest of constructing a high-culture novel tradition. Popular genres, such as the sensation novel, are consigned to second-rate status through a process that often replicates nineteenth-century discourses suspicious of working-class readers, female audiences, and affectively powerful or nonrealist literature.” Ann Cvetkovich, Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture, and Victorian Sensationalism, 15. (Suggested novels: Adam Bede, Lady Audley’s Secret.)

2. “In the second half of the novel, Mrs Gaskell retreated from the implications of the moving record of distress presented in the first half, falling back on literary convention to eschew the social and political issues raised by the very originality and authenticity of her account… Perhaps the exigencies of the novel form were as much to blame as were Mrs Gaskell’s own politics. What made the novel an instant success was its capacity to bring to life the large-scale social problems reported in a plethora of parliamentary reports and blue books. Only a novel, with its focus upon the individual and particular, could correct the generalized abstractions of official documents and statistics: yet the novel demanded plot momentum and narrative resolution in a situation where irresolution and intractability were the keynotes.” Josie Billington, “Elizabeth Gaskell” (Suggested novels: Mary Barton, Adam Bede, Lady Audley’s Secret, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.)

3. “Hetty is a subject till that last moment on the road, before she abandons the baby. From that point on she is an object: of confession and conversion, of attitudes toward suffering. This is the essential difference from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles which has the strength to keep to the subject to the end. Adam Bede and Dinah Morris—as one might say the dignity of self-respecting labour and religious enthusiasm—are more important in the end. Even the changed repentant Arthur is more important than the girl whom the novelist abandons, in a moral action more decisive than Hetty’s own confused and desperate leaving of her child.” Raymond Williams, The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence, 82-3. (Suggested novels: Mary Barton, Adam Bede, Lady Audley’s Secret, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.)

4. “The Dorset in which Hardy grew up… was, of course, the basis for the Wessex of his fiction-a landscape that in some respects has fairly been said to suggest the timelessness characteristic of rural ballads; but Hardy’s Wessex should also be seen as a traditional society under attack by the forces of industrialization. Whereas the novels of Dickens, Gaskell, and others depict the hardship caused by the industrial revolution on the urban poor, Tess clearly shows how rural industry was far from being untouched by hardship, caused by soulless mechanization. Typically, however, the harsher undertones of Wessex life have in the public mind been often diluted or lost in a wash of nostalgic rural Englishness.” Sarah Maier, “Introduction” to Broadview edition of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, 15. (Suggested novels: Mary Barton, Adam Bede, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.)

5. “Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot. All the more sacred is the task of the artist when he undertakes to paint the life of the People. Falsification here is far more pernicious than in the more artificial aspects of life.” George Eliot, Review of Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl’s The Natural History of the German People as a Foundation of German Social Politics, 1856. (Suggested novels: Mary Barton, Adam Bede, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.)

or choose one of the following on Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway:

6. “She felt somehow very like him—the young man who had killed himself.” Why do you think Woolf constructed her novel around two such different, yet obviously paralleled, central characters?

7. Mrs Dalloway’s marriage plot—the standard feature of the nineteenth-century novel—is very clearly in the past. What other features of more traditional novels that we’ve read this semester does Woolf either transform or reject outright? What does she replace them with? Why?

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments