For too long we have emphasized Literature's power to figure, to trope and to construct fantasy. Critics and readers of novels have understood realism as a technique of creating a virtual reality that is not (real). But this ignores the novel's hold upon reality. It is time to strip the quotes that the linguistic turn in literary studies has put around reality. Only then can we recover how novel writers used fiction to investigate reality. In reading a series of important novels, written between 1605 and 1927, we will read some of the literary theorists of realism and reality (Ian Watt, Mikhail Bakhtin, Roland Barthes, Bruno Latour). But our main attention will be directed as tracing the strategies by which five writers use novelistic narrative to investigate some aspect of reality. In Don Quixote, Cervantes thematicizes the power of novel-induced belief to displace non-novelistic reality. In Fielding’s Tom Jones, the dialogical plurality of voices and genres are woven into a comic-epic in prose that renders society as a complex totality. In Austen’s Emma, the heroine’s fiction-making habit encounters the perverse counter-force of reality. In George Eliot's "study of provincial life," the interdependence of the lives, places, intentions and actions in Middlemarch figures reality as a social system as complex as those conceptualized by classics of 19th century sociology. Finally, in To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf experiments with language and consciousness give her reader access to realities quite different than the realities rendered by earlier novelists. In following this trail, we’ll get help on the nature and limits of realism by reading novelists on their art: Fielding, Scott (on Jane Austen), Balzac on realism, Zola on naturalism, Henry James on “The Art of the Novel,” and Woolf’s own trenchant criticism of Arnold Bennett, James Joyce and her own experimental writing as a modernist alterative to realism.
1.Migel de Cervantes: /The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha/, Part I, 1605. (week 2-3) Please use the complete Samuel Putnam translations.
2. Henry Fielding, Tom Jones. Ed. John Bender and Simon Stern. Oxford University Press. (week 4-5)
3. Jane Austen, Emma. Broadside edition (if you can get it) (week 6)
4.George Eliot: Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, 1871-72 [Penguin Classic] (week 7-8)
5. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse. (week 9-10)
Requirements: one seminar presentation (on literary text), one seminar presentation (on critical text) and a final term paper. Of course, you must also enjoy reading!