Cultural Materialism and the Rise of the Novel

Melissa Bloom, St. John Fisher University, 2006

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English 440: Senior Seminar
Fall 2006
M-W 2:30-3:50 Basil 210

Dr. Melissa Bloom
Office Hours T-Th 12:30-1:30, W 4-5
Basil 115, 386-7397

Cultural Materialism and the Rise of the Novel

Prose fiction took many shapes on its way to becoming what we now know as the novel.  We'll begin with Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe (the men and the novels) and we'll end with Jane Austen (the author).  In between, we'll explore the multiplicities of fictions and pleasure readings which flooded the newly open London print market in the 18th century; the burgeoning readership as literacy spread among the poor and women; the legal question of intellectual property raised by blatant piracy of successful works; the question of the class position of the novel, in relation to other genres; the rise of a powerful “public sphere” in which news and opinions were shared, and of the social habit of sharing letters; and the importance of religion to the growing respectability of prose fiction. 

Eighteenth-century novels tend to be very very long; in this class, we will read selections from many different novels, though there will be a handful which we will all read in full. We will spend at least as much time reading and discussing the theorists of cultural materialism (also called New Historicism) and studies on various cultural aspects of the reading public of the eighteenth century. The focus of this class is on the methods of reading and analyzing that Cultural Materialism offers, and our novel reading is meant to supply a base for that conversation. Many of you will choose to complete many of the novels, and I encourage and applaud you – I love these books, and I think they’re vastly entertaining.

In addition to the reading we do as a class, each of you will be responsible for one novel, which you will read in its entirety. You will be responsible for leading class discussion on the week that novel is before us, which will entail a short lecture (on the background of the novel, and on one cultural aspect peculiar to it) and then raising questions for, and moderating, a group discussion. Your presentation will be 15% of your grade. You will also write a 10-15 page paper on that novel, incorporating theory, research, and critical analysis. This paper will be 50% of your grade. Other short writing assignments throughout the semester, many of which will become part of your larger project, will make up another 25%, and your participation (10%) completes your grade.

In addition to your 10-15 page paper, you will write:
a weekly response and two discussion questions: 1 page
an annotated bibliography (to be distributed to class when you do your presentation): 5-8 pages
a critical review of one theorist and two pieces of literary criticism on your work: 5-8 pages
a paper proposal, including thesis and brief literature review: 2-4 pages

Reading List:
We will read all or most of the titles with asterisks.

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes (translation by Edith Grossman, published by Harper Perennial)
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (Penguin classics)
* Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (Norton Critical Edition)
Love in Excess by Eliza Haywood (Broadview)
* Pamela by Samuel Richardson (Oxford World Classics)
* Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (Oxford World Classics)
* Candide by Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet) (Penguin Classics)
* Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (Oxford World Classics)
A Sicillian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (Oxford World Classics)
* Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Norton Critical Edition)

Additional readings—historical, critical, and theoretical—will be posted in PDF format on the Blackboard page.

Plagiarism is the undocumented use of another person’s ideas, organization, or research on a written assignment. It is plagiarism to turn in a paper written by another student or to copy or paraphrase any portion of your text from another source (study guides, articles, books, another student’s paper or the Internet) without proper documentation. Any case of plagiarism will be prosecuted according to the guidelines in the SJFC handbook. Students who plagiarize will receive an F for the course.

Policy on Disabilities: In compliance with St. John Fisher College policy and applicable laws, appropriate academic accommodations are available to you if you are a student with a disability. All requests for accommodations must be supported by appropriate documentation/diagnosis and determined reasonable by St. John Fisher College. Students with documented disabilities (physical, learning, psychological) who may need academic accommodations are advised to make an appointment with the Coordinator of Services for students with disabilities in the Office of Academic Affairs, Kearney 202. Late notification will delay requested accommodations.


Week of 9/11 Don Quixote and Foucault -- everyone reads Chapters X-X, each student reads an additional two chapters. “Las Meninas” from The Order of Things and Catherine Belsey
Week of 9/18 Oroonoko and Clifford Geertz [from “The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man”] and selections from The Origins of the English Novel
Week of 9/25 Robinson Crusoe and John Bender from Imagining the Penitentiary
Week of 10/2 Moll Flanders and Raymond Williams “Culture” from Marxism and Literature
Week of 10/9 Love in Excess and William Warner, J Paul Hunter
Week of 10/16 Pamela and Turner “Novel Panic” James Turner and “Fabric and Fabrication” Sheila Conboy
Week of 10/23 Pamela and Habermas
Week of 10/30 Candide
Week of 11/6 Tom Jones and Terry Eagleton
Week of 11/13 Tom Jones and Jill Campbell, Roy Porter (on reading)
Week of 11/20 Castle of Otranto and Walter Benjamin
Week of 11/27 (no class on 11/29) Sicillian Romance and Kate Ferguson Ellis from The Contested Castle
Week of 12/4 Northanger Abbey and Nancy Armstrong from Desire and Domestic Fiction

Final Papers due 12/11

last updated july 2015