Erin O'Connor

English754.301: Novel Doubletakes

Spring 2000

This course will examine the historical, cultural, and aesthetic significance of the nineteenth-century novel by focussing on a peculiar trend in contemporary literature: the penchant of twentieth-century authors for rewriting nineteenth-century fiction. In the course of the semester, we will read a series of nineteenth-century novels alongside their twentieth-century counterparts in order to ask a number of difficult literary, historical, and theoretical questions: why have so many present-day authors found it essential to take up the politics and poetics of nineteenth-century fiction? What do rewritings of nineteenth-century novels allow authors to say--about now, about then, about the relationship between now and then? How do these literary "doubletakes" transform, distort, illuminate, or even mistake the works they are adapting? In order to address these questions, we will necessarily have a dual focus in this course, studying what these variously re-written works meant during the nineteenth-century in order to better address their significance to late twentieth-century ideas about authorship and culture.


Required Texts (available at Penn Book Center):

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

A.S. Byatt, Possession

Peter Carey, Jack Maggs

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’ Diary

John Guillory, Cultural Capital

Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa

Cynthia Ozick, The Puttermesser Papers

Norman Rush, Mating

David Simpson, The Academic Postmodern

Anthony Trollope, The Warden


A bulkpack, available at Campus Copy Center


Required Work:

One shortish paper (10-12 pages) due mid-term

A longer research paper (20-25 pages) due at the end of the term

One in-class presentation

Regular forays into both actual and virtual archives to locate reviews, articles, historical information, and other materials relevant to the course.


Schedule of readings:

January 20 Pride and Prejudice

January 27 Bridget Jones’ Diary; Sedgwick, "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl"; Simpson, "The Academic Postmodern?"

February 3 John Guillory, Cultural Capital

February 10 Jane Eyre

February 18 Wide Sargasso Sea; Spivak, "Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism"; Robbins, "Comparative Cosmopolitanisms"; Robbins, "Upward Mobility in the Postcolonial Era: Kincaid, Mukherjee, and the Cosmopolitan Au Pair" [on-line through Project Muse]; Simpson, "The Return of the Storyteller"; Benjamin, "The Storyteller"

February 25 The Warden; Peltason, "The Way We Read and Write Now: The Rhetoric of Experience in Victorian Literature and Contemporary Criticism" [ELH 99; Project Muse]

March 2 Great Expectations

March 9 Jack Maggs; Said, from Culture and Imperialism; Lansbury, "The Micawbers", "The Convict Redeemed"; Hughes, "Introduction"; Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Screen Great Expectations


March 16 Spring Break

March 23 Mill on the Floss

March 30 Puttermesser Papers

April 6 Heart of Darkness; Travels in West Africa

April 13 Mating; Simpson, "Local Knowledge and Literary Criticism"

April 20 Possession; Simpson, "The Urge for Solutions and the Relief of Fiction"

April 27 Selections from Victorian Literature and Culture on Victorian Studies and Cultural Studies; Last day of class