At least since the 18^th century, the novel has often been understood to offer readers of literature its most "realistic" version of modern life. This course will explore and criticize this old thesis about the novel's realism. We will read three path-breaking and enjoyable novels that were written to investigate the nature of reality. In /Joseph Andrews/, Henry Fielding takes us on the road into surprising adventures that test the love of Joseph Andrews and Fanny, at the same time those adventures expose the idealism of Parson Adams to the brutal comic reality of human desires, schemes, and error. In Jane Austen's /Emma, /the reader must grapple with the role in real life of fiction-making, first, in Emma's comically misguided romantic plans for her girl friends, and second, in the author's own surprising amorous plans for Emma. Finally, in Charles Dicken's /Oliver Twist /the reader must first take in Dicken's exposé of the brutal realities of England's child 'welfare' system, but then follow the counter-movement opened by the power of Oliver Twist's virtue and goodness to sway strangers into sympathy with Oliver's condition, and so join to deliver him from the evil of Fagin's dangerous London criminal gang.
While the critical tradition has wanted to see "realism" as a kind of "virtual reality" constructed out of the make believer and authorial imagination, this course will explore how novelists use language, plots, narrative and their considerable analytical skills to investigate a reality that needs no qualifying quote marks.
Requirements: occasional quizzes on the reading; 2 short 2-page papers; one in-class remix performance, one final 6-page paper