Believing you’re special rarely ends well in a novel. But watching protagonists aspire, rise, and fall is one of the most consistent pleasures of fiction for its readers. This class examines novels about people who are convinced they’ll do something important and extraordinary. Sometimes the dream proves impossible. Sometimes it comes true, but in disastrous, ironic ways: think of Frankenstein. Along the way, we’ll discuss novelists’ persistent engagement with the ideals and limitations of social mobility. We’ll also examine how these themes shape the form of the novel itself: what are the ambitions of novelists, and the perils of literary success? Authors might include Daniel Defoe, Mary Shelley, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Edward P. Jones, and Zadie Smith.