What you will study
Of all literary genres, the novel is probably the best adapted to the representation and exploration of social change and one of the aims of the module is to provide opportunities for investigating the ways that novels can function as evidence in enquiries about the past.
Book 1 The first half of the module introduces six nineteenth-century novels: Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Dombey and Son, Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd and Germinal. A brief introduction leads to a section on ‘Books and Their Readers’, which provides a context for the production and consumption of novel texts. Chapters on the novels follow in two main sections. In the first, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre and Dombey and Son are explored with emphasis on issues of genre, starting with close readings of the text and moving on to a wider discussion of relevant issues. A distinctive aspect of this first part is the extent to which novels are seen to construct their plots in terms of the changing nature of a more or less settled community – at times, as in Jane Eyre, in terms of the radical interference of an outsider figure. In the second part, chapters on Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd and Germinal examine how fictional conventions are modified as writers engage with social and political issues, including the extent to which the novels endorse or contest the circumstances they describe, and the extent to which they seek a fictional resolution for what are ultimately political dilemmas.
Book 2 In the first part of this book we look at the problematic constructions of female identity in Madame Bovary, The Woman in White and The Portrait of a Lady. The Woman in White has a central position to allow for an interrogation of ‘realist’ methods and effects by means of the subversive and extremely popular genre of sensationalism, at the same time challenging Flaubert’s and James’s creations. The second part leads to an examination of the opportunities created by the decline of the traditional ‘three-decker’ novel form and the profound questioning of moral certainties evident towards the end of the century in Dracula, The Awakening and Heart of Darkness. As well as the study of these six novels from the European, English and American traditions, we consider such issues as the increasing self-consciousness of novelists and the changing nature of the relationship between their work and its readers and publishers.