Descriptions of My Courses offered at Wesleyan and elsewhere since 2002


HUMS 616 Jane Austen and the Art of the Novel

Spring 2004
Jane Austen is, arguably, England’s first great novelist. Such a valuation is remarkable when applied to a writer whose range was consciously limited to what she knew best, two or three families in a country village,and who characterized herself as the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dated to be an authoress.
HUMS 616	Jane Austen and the Art of the NovelShe would describe her artistry with similar self-depreciating but misleading modesty as the little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour. A supremely comic writer and moral dramatist, Austen redefined the novel as a powerful truth-telling instrument, demonstrating that commonplace, everyday experience can be a source of great and enduring art.

The course will explore the full range of that art with close readings and discussions of all six of her completed novels, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. We will supplement our exploration of Austen’s fiction with investigations into the social and historical context of the writer’s time and the literary standards that Austen imitated, modified, and transformed. For example, what were the social customs of Austen’s day and what role do they play in her books? Similarly, what was the state of the novel and what were the challenges faced by women writers at the time? Answering such questions will enhance appreciation of Austen’s achievements.

Classes will include screenings of some recent film versions of Austen’s novels and a consideration of the challenges faced presenting Austen’s works to modern audiences. Students will write a passage analysis from one of Austen’s novels and research an aspect of Austen’s life or time for an oral and written report. The final project will consist of a critical assessment of a modern literary adaptation of an Austen novel or on another related topic of the student’s choice in consultation with the instructor.

HUMS 650 War and Peace: Tolstoy and the Art of the Novel

Summer 2004
War and Peace has been described as a dictionary of life, where one may look up any passion, any ambition, and find its meaning (William Lyon Phelps), in which there is hardly any subject of human experience that is left out (Virginia Woolf), and a book that helps to restore the balance and to recall our vision of humanity(E.M. Forster).
War and Peace Notes Complete.doc, 585.00 Kb
A section by section guide to Tolstoy's novel with comparisons between Tolstoy and Dickens, Dostoevski, and Joyce.
HUMS 650	War and Peace: Tolstoy and the Art of the NovelTolstoy’s translator, Aylmer Maude, wrote that I should like to live my life over again in order to have once again the pleasure of reading War and Peace for the first time. Spend this summer in your initial or multiple encounter with what many consider the novel’s supreme achievement.

The class will provide a close reading of Tolstoy’s masterpiece in manageable portions, examining the novel from a variety of contexts, critical, biographical, historical, and cultural, to enhance appreciation. We will relate War and Peace and Tolstoy’s development as a writer to the development of the European novel and the various influences, from Cervantes to Dickens and Stendhal, that Tolstoy drew on to create his unique version of a narrative epic that subsumed history, fiction, and philosophy into an immense construct that is simultaneously intimate, abstract, and universal.

Students will be asked to keep a journal recording questions and reactions to the reading and encounters with scholarship dealing with the novel and its author from which a final critical or creative project will be formed. In addition, students will research and report on a significant aspect of nineteenth-century Russian life and culture.

Few other reading experiences can match a close encounter with War and Peace. Join us for an assault on Mount Tolstoy for the exhilaration of the climb and for the view!

HUMS 643 Forms of Modern Fiction

Fall 2004
What makes modern fiction so challenging, provoking, and stimulating? How did the modern novel evolve and what are its connections with and differences from the novel that originated in the eighteenth century?
HUMS 643	Forms of Modern FictionWe will explore these questions during a close reading of groundbreaking novels of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Garc’a Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The course will examine how the boundaries of the novel were exploded and expanded by these important novels, in which psychological realism replaced the idealization of previous fiction and realism itself was imaginatively redefined to accommodate the fantastic, the irrational, and the mythic. By understanding the ways and means of modern fiction, students should be better able to enhance their enjoyment and appreciation of the best of contemporary fiction.

This reading and discussion course will include particular emphasis on the techniques of fiction writing. It should, therefore, be of particular interest to creative writers as well as to students looking for a directed reading of modern texts. Students will be expected to keep a journal of their responses to the reading and encounters with scholarship dealing with the novels and authors. As a final project, students will produce a critical examination of a recently published novel of his or her choice.