Studies in Fiction

What are novels for?  How should they be made?

In this class, we’ll not only study George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-72) – one of the greatest of all novels – but will also examine two other major works that make critical contributions to the evolution of the novel form itself: Eliot’s own Daniel Deronda (1874-76), her last finished novel, and Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1880), which attempts to rewrite the basic plot of Deronda and to set the novel as a genre on a different course.  This was the course, many critics think, that led to the Modernist fiction of such writers as Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and and Virginia Woolf, with its apparent fixation on psychological states (think “stream of consciousness”) and its apparently overriding commitment to literary form.  By focusing on James’s vexed response to Eliot, we’ll reconsider the story critics have told of how the novel moves from Victorian to Modernist, or from “traditional” to “experimental.” I am currently working on a critical project on this very issue.

Student work will most likely involve short responses to readings, brief oral reports, one critical essay, and a creative project at the semester’s end.