English 60: The British Novel
Fall 1996
MWF 9-10

Erin O'Connor

This course will chart the rise of the British novel, paying particular attention to the intimate connection between the project of imperial expansion and the fictional production of national identity. From its earliest incarnations, the British novel concerns itself with problems of exploration, discovery, colonization and control; using motifs of travel, shipwreck, and settlement to outline the contours of home. In so doing, the British novel might be said to develop a geography of selfhood, an aesthetic model in which mapping the world becomes a means of, and metaphor for, mapping the mind. Indeed, as themes of travel and exotic locales filled up novels, novels were themselves imagined as potentially dangerous adventures, documents that could not only take the mind to far away places, but could potentially leave it stranded, or even dash it to bits. During the semester we will explore this claim, tracking novelistic obsessions with the foreign, the exotic, and the oriental and linking them to questions the British were asking about what it meant to be a self, what it meant to inhabit a classed and gendered body, and what it meant to read.

Required Texts:

Available at Penn Book Center:

Course Requirements:


Since I know that disasters happen unexpectedly during the semester, I allow you two absences. In other words, there's no such thing in this class as an "excused" absence. I don't want to know why you miss class; these two absences are your business. Missing more than two classes is equally your business, but it will significantly lower your grade, since it will inhibit your ability to contribute significantly to our discussions. You should count on 3-4 absences lowering your grade by 1/3 (B to B-, for example), 5-6 by 2/3 (B to C+, 7-8 by one full grade (B to C), etc.


This class will conduct itself as a discussion rather than a lecture. I say this now because I do not want anyone taking this class to expect it to be a lecture class. I do sometimes lecture for 5-15 minute stretches, but the bulk of our time will be spent in real discussion, and the topics of our discussion will be determined as much by your intellectual interests as by my own. This means that you should expect class periods to be intense and fun, a place to test out your own ideas about what we're reading. Students who do not participate in our discussions will most likely see their final grade go down; the four or five students who end up carrying much of the burden of discussion will probably see their hard work reflected in their grade as well. Most importantly, you should expect class discussion often to follow your interests and concerns as you voice them.

Intense classroom dialogue is one of the single most educational experiences you will have at Penn. You often learn from yourself as you speak, and you will frequently produce ideas and theories as a class by building on and occasionally challenging each other'•s comments. Dialogue cannot happen if you do not all commit to speaking regularly and provocatively in class. For this reason, I reserve the right to call on anyone at any time. I do this not to embarrass you, but to inspire you to contribute your thoughts to class discussion if I find that you are not doing so voluntarily. You should plan on speaking at least once at every class meeting.


Because this is a course on the British novel, the reading load for this course is necessarily heavy. You will typically be responsible for reading 250-300 pages per week. I have spaced this so that your heaviest reading assignments will fall on Mondays and Fridays, giving you a bit of a breather mid-week. It is crucial that you do the reading in a timely manner. Plan carefully for this course! If you allow yourself to fall behind, it will be very difficult for you to catch up.

Mathematically, 250-300 pages per week averages out to 35-45 pages of reading per day. You should be able to read at a rate of at least 30 pages per hour when you are reading fiction; you should budget more time for bulkpack readings as critical prose tends to be quite dense. In short, you should allow yourself around 1-2 hours per day to read for this course. If the weekly reading takes you longer than 10 or 11 hours to complete, it is a sign that you need to make some adjustments in your reading habits. Your success in this course depends in large part on your ability to read quickly and efficiently.

Although the bulk of our time will be spent concentrating on the prose of British authors, we will also devote significant attention to bulkpack readings on issues relevant to the course. These assignments are every bit as important as the novels--you will be expected to integrate them into class discussion, to use them in your papers, and to be able to discuss them intelligently on the final exam.

If you cannot commit to intensive, regular reading, do not take this course.


This course is as much a course in writing as it is a course in reading. Writing is an integral part of learning. You often don't know what you think until you have to write it down; similarly, the writing process always helps you to refine and focus your thinking, to explore and articulate your ideas, and to uncover fresh insights into what you have read. For this reason, you will be writing continuously for this course, producing 2 formal papers and a range of short, ungraded reaction papers.

When done properly, writing is a laborious and time-consuming process. If you are not interested in improving your writing, this course is not for you. Similarly, if you have other commitments that will prevent you from giving your writing assignments the time and care they deserve, this course is not for you. Conversely, making a commitment to the work for this course will be its own reward: you will be able to watch your capacities for critical thinking and analytical writing improve during the term.

Formal Papers:

Graded papers for this course will be due on Monday, October 28 and Thursday, December 12. Mark these dates on your calendar! I do not give extensions, and I penalize late papers severely--a paper one day late will be marked down one full letter grade (in other words, the highest it can get is a B); a paper two days late will suffer two grades off (the highest it can earn is a C) and so on. Don't test me on this: your grade will suffer for it. The best way to combat these rules is to plan ahead. With careful planning, lateness will not be a problem for you.

Informal Writing:

In the spirit of electronic dialogue, you will all do a minimum of one listserv posting every week. This posting should be a minimum of 15-20 lines, although you should feel free to write more if you get inspired. This posting can take a number of forms--it can consist of a series of questions about the reading for that week, or it can consist of an effort to sketch out a thesis or even a short reading of an assigned text or texts, or it can consist of some combination of the two. The purpose of the assignment is twofold: you should use the writing as an exercise in articulating your thoughts and queries about some particular aspect of what we have read, and you should also conceive of your post as part of an ongoing dialogue: respond to other posts, raise questions, debate.

The purpose of these assignments is to provide you with a forum for discussion that is not directly controlled and mediated by Me. The listserv will enable you to generate new ideas as well as explore issues raised in class in more depth. This assignment should be an enjoyable one--indeed, the discussions that will arise on the listserv will be precisely as fun, creative, quirky and productive as you collectively make them. While the paragraph above outlines the minimum work I expect you to do on the listserv, you are encouraged to respond to one another and to initiate discussions as often as you wish.

Your Grade:

Your grade will be determined by 3 components: the quality of your in-class performance (daily contributions to discussion, listserver assignments; 20%); your performance on the final exam, 20%; and your performance on formal writing assignments, 60% (20% for first paper, 40% for second).


Plagiarism consists of lifting the ideas or even the actual words of others. Plagiarism of words or ideas will result in a failing grade for the course. If you are uncertain about what constitutes plagiarism, or are unsure of how to cite the work of others properly in your writing, see me.


9/4 Introduction
9/6 Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 1-69
9/9 Robinson Crusoe, --160.
9/11 Edward Said, from Orientalism (bulkpack)
9/13 Robinson Crusoe, --229
9/16 Michel Foucault, from Discipline and Punish (bulkpack)
9/18 Robinson Crusoe, --306
9/20 Stallybrass and White, Ő’The Fair, the Pig, AuthorshipŐ“
9/23 Horace Walpole, Castle of Otranto (all)
9/25 Otranto, contd.
9/27 Lynn Hunt, Ő’The Many Bodies of Marie AntoinetteŐ“ (bulkpack)
9/30 Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, chaps. 1-8
10/2 Northanger Abbey, chaps. 9-19
10/4 Terry Castle, Ő’PhantasmagoriaŐ“ (bulkpack)
10/7 Northanger Abbey, chaps. 20-end
10/9 Ruth Perry, Ő’Colonizing the BreastŐ“ (bulkpack)
10/11 Fanny Burney, Ő’A MastectomyŐ“ (bulkpack)
10/14 [no class]
10/16 Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, chaps. 1-15
10/18 Jane Eyre, chaps. 16-20
10/21 Jane Eyre, chaps. 21-29
10/23 Jane Eyre, chaps. 30-38
10/25 Sander Gilman, "Black Bodies, White Bodies" (bulkpack)
10/28 Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, chaps. 1-13
10/30 Great Expectations, chaps. 14-22
11/1 Adrienne Munich, "Imperial Tears" (bulkpack)
11/4 Great Expectations, chaps. 23-35
11/6 Great Expectations, chaps. 36-44
11/8 Great Expectations, chaps. 45-59
11/11 Stallybrass and White, "The City: The Sewer, the Gaze, the Contaminating Touch"
11/13 Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (first half)
11/15 Treasure Island, finish
11/18 Patrick Brantlinger, "Victorians and Africans" (bulkpack)
11/20 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (all)
11/22 Heart of Darkness, contd.
11/25 Chinua Achebe, "An Image of Africa," C.P. Sarvan, "Racism and the Heart of Darkness"
11/27 no class
12/2 Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
12/4 Wide Sargasso Sea
12/6 Stallybrass and White, "Bourgeois Hysteria and the Carnivalesque"
12/9 last day of class; synthesis