The Good Life: Novels, Biographies, and the Nineteenth-Century Imagination
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Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the genre of the novel evolved alongside that of biography. Each was principally concerned with things that had historically been regarded as outside the purview of published, respectable writing--the inner thoughts and everyday habits of persons, whether real or imagined, great or small. Each, too, was regarded with suspicion for its working assumption that the trivial details, secret passions, and private struggles of everyday life may be the stuff of art, scholarship, and legitimate public interest. Neither novels nor biographies were thought to be quite legitimate at first; both were seen as morally suspect genres, as inherently questionable kinds of writing that, in dealing closely with the most personal and intimate aspects of their subjects' lives, encouraged an unhealthy prurience in readers and writers alike. In the case of biography, this charge was intensified by related concerns that the act of writing up a lived life for the reading public was a gross invasion of privacy and a violation of the respect that is owed to the dead.
This course will trace the complicated and entangled early lives of the novel and biography. We will read a number of novels that tell the stories of imagined lives alongside biographies that purport to tell the truth about real lives; we'll also read novels that contain germs of their authors' autobiographies, novels that meditate on the genre of biography, biographies that engage in literary criticism, and biographies that look and act like novels. Along the way, we will read critical commentary on both kinds of writing. We will also examine how each genre addressed, criticized, and shaped the other. At every point, we will attempt to register the shifting complexity of the connection between two genres that emerged simultaneously for similar reasons, shared many interests and concerns, and yet in the end differed so profoundly from one another.
Required Texts: (available at the Penn Book Center)
James Boswell, Life of Johnson
Phyllis Rose, Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages
Charlotte Bronte, Villette
Elizabeth Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Bronte
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Virginia Woolf, Flush
A.S. Byatt, The Biographer's Tale
One short paper (7-10 pages), due March 3
One longer paper (15-20 pages), due April 24
Weekly weblog postings
An in-class presentation
Be sure to read the course policies carefully.
Schedule of Readings
Jan 9 Introduction
Jan 11 Henry Fielding, Shamela ; James Atlas, "My Subject, Myself"
Jan 16 Martin Luther King Day
Jan 18 Samuel Johnson, "Life of Savage"
Jan 23 James Boswell, Life of Johnson
Jan 25 Boswell, contd.
Jan 30 Thomas Carlyle, "Life of John Sterling"
Feb 1 Thomas Carlyle, contd.; Phyllis Rose, Parallel Lives
Feb 6 Charlotte Bronte, Villette
Feb 8 Charlotte Bronte, Villette
Feb 13 Charlotte Bronte, Villette
Feb 15 Charlotte Bronte, Villette
PRESENTATION: Calypso Montouchet
Feb 20 Elizabeth Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Bronte
Feb 22 Elizabeth Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Bronte
Feb 27 Elizabeth Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Bronte
PRESENTATION: Laura Kittell, "The Life and Writing of Emily Dickinson"
March 1 Elizabeth Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Bronte
PRESENTATION: Minjoo Kweon, "Haruki Murakami"
March 3: FIRST ESSAY DUE
March 6 SPRING BREAK
March 8 SPRING BREAK
March 13 Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
PRESENTATION: Evangel Fung
March 15 Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
PRESENTATION: Tejas Patil
March 20 John Forster, The
Life of Charles Dickens
PRESENTATION: Katie Newbold
March 22 John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens; Phyllis Rose, Parallel Lives
March 24: Topic for final paper due
March 27 Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
PRESENTATION: Dave Mangum
March 29 Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
April 3 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
PRESENTATION: Lauren Le Vine
April 5 Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
PRESENTATION: Lindsey Rosin, "Oscar Wilde's Plays"
April 7: Annotated bibliography for final paper due
April 10 Virginia Woolf, Flush; Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians
PRESENTATION: Uri Bushey, "Interactive Fiction"
April 12 A.S. Byatt, The Biographer's Tale
PRESENTATION: Patrick Dillon, "Biographical Dictionaries"
April 17 A.S. Byatt, The Biographer's Tale
PRESENTATION: Elise Gabriel
April 19 Last day of class
April 28: FINAL PAPER DUE