Our Course

ENGL 356.01, Spring 2015

This course aims, as much as possible, to capture the diversity and dynamism of the American novel during the first half of the twentieth century: from the traditional extensions of realism to the radical experiments of modernism; from regional fictions to the fragmented narratives of urban life; and from the severe lessons of naturalism to new explorations of identity in terms of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Even as we attend to what makes each novel a distinct literary¬†achievement, we will also discuss the ways in which these works remain inextricably tied to their distinct cultural and historical contexts in a time period that includes world wars, advances in women’s suffrage, economic depression, and massive migration and urbanization.

No single novel–and no single class–can adequately capture an era as dynamic as the first part of the twentieth century. And yet scholars since the mid-1800s have been taken with the elusive idea of the Great American Novel: a novel that might stand in for all that is important and pressing at any given moment; a novel that perfectly captures its moment. But whose moment, one might ask? How can any novel possible be representative when its subject–American experience itself–is so diverse? This is a great and necessary question, but it is also one that makes the debate surrounding the Great American Novel so generative and alive. Our class will take up this question in relation to each novel we read.

By the end of this class, you will have had the opportunity to:

  • Distinguish the kinds of novels written during the first part of the twentieth century from what came before (e.g. Realism, Romance) and after (e.g. various manifestations of “post” modernism).
  • Explore the sheer diversity of novels that comprise seemingly simple designations such as “the modern novel.”
  • Articulate how various contextual forces–historical, cultural, etc.–impact the novel under discussion.
  • Gauge the importance of original publications contexts for the works under discussion.
  • Join a broader community of readers and scholars as you blog extensively about the formal particulars, cultural-historical context, and charged afterlives of each text we read.
  • Compose a significant researched critical paper on a novel of your choosing.

The required novels can be purchased at the CofC Bookstore. You can use their textbook search tool to see the specific editions required for this course.

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