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The Nineteenth-Century
British Novel:

Dickens, Eliot, Hardy

Course Description

Scholars generally hail the nineteenth century as the Age of the Novel. From serious triple-decker masterpieces to popular sensation fiction, the novel dominated the Victorian literary landscape. This semester, we will traverse a part of this rich literary landscape, following the footprints of the three greatest novelists of the period: Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy.

Because our time is limited, we'll be reading only a small sample of the work of these three masters:

  • Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853)
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1860)
  • George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859)
  • George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native (1878)
  • Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891)

Given the impressive length of many of these texts, course writing requirements will be relatively light to allow students more time for reading. Prospective students are strongly cautioned to consider the lengths of these novels and the relatively brisk pacing of the class. Students can expect, on average, to read approximately 250-350 pages per week, every week, for fourteen weeks; short quizzes and in-class activities will be offered to encourage students to keep pace with this rigorous schedule. In addition to these less “formal” assignments, course requirements include active participation in class discussion. For the remainder of the grade, each student will be asked to choose–in consultation with the instructor–an individualized combination of formal papers and exams.

The reading schedule printed below is tentative and subject to change prior to the start of spring classes. Although specific text selections may change, this preliminary schedule is indicative of the typical reading load for the course.

Reading Schedule

Introduction and
Course Overview

7 January

Charles Dickens

Bleak House

14 January

Parts I-VI (Chapters 1-19), Pages 13-315

21 January

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday: No Class Meeting

28 January

Parts VII-XIII (Chapters 20-42), Pages 315-570

4 February

Parts XIV-XX (Chapters 43-60), Pages 570-989

Charles Dickens

Great Expectations

11 February

Chapters 1-29, Pages 35-265

18 February

Chapters 30-59 and Appendix, Pages 265-496

George Eliot

Adam Bede

25 February

Books First and Second, Pages 61-308

3 March

Books Third and Fourth, Pages 309-574

George Eliot

The Mill on the Floss

10 March

Spring Break: No Class Meeting

17 March

Books One through Three (Pages 9-281)

24 March

Books Four through Seven(281-544)

Thomas Hardy

The Return of the Native

31 March

Books 1-3

7 April

Books 4-6

Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

14 April

Phases 1-4  (pages 1-178)

21 April

Phases 5-7 (pages 178-314)

Discussion Questions Assignment

Over the course of the semester, each student will be asked to submit to the class two sets of discussion questions. Each set of questions will address the reading for that day and should be designed to help spur our discussion by highlighting important issues in the text or by introducing the student's own ideas about the reading. There should be 3-5 well-constructed, interesting, provocative, eloquent, discussion-oriented questions in each set, and students are reminded that this is an assignment for which they will receive a grade. In other words, if you want an "A" for this assignment, you'll have to think and craft and refine your questions very carefully. Because these are questions meant to elicit discussions, students will be asked to email their questions to the rest of the class the day (or night) before they are due in class. Discussion questions not submitted on time will not receive full credit.

After you have drafted your questions, select your best question and prepare a short but brilliantly inspired answer to it. Your answer should be no more than three double-spaced pages, and it should reflect your very highest level of thinking and writing. It should be tightly focused and well-organized. It should also engage closely with the text. Given the brevity of the assignment, you should pay very close attention to sentence structure, grammar, and prose style. The response should, in other words, be interesting, significant, precise, and highly refined. You needn't email your response to the rest of the class, but you should have the final draft of it ready to hand in on the designated dates.

This assignment will count towards 20% of your course grade.

All students will be expected to prepare for class by reading and thinking about the questions posed by their classmates in advance of each class meeting. A successful classroom discussion is everyone's responsibility.


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