ENG 465 -- THE ENGLISH NOVEL

Mr. Spurgin, Fall 2004

MWF 1:30-2:40, MH 404


Term paper -- Deadlines

• The paper is due on Tuesday, November 23. Bring to my office by 4:00 p.m.

• The paper should be ten to twelve pages long. Use the MLA format for quotations and citations.

• If you have at least eight pages drafted by Thursday, November 18, you’re welcome to participate in a writing workshop. Workshop groups will be small—probably just you, me, and one other student. The groups will meet outside of class to talk over drafts and discuss possibilities for revision.


The assignment

• This course is focused not only on individual works but on a number of big ideas about the novel. Oral reports and class discussions will often bring us back to these big ideas, and this paper will give you a chance to look at one of the ideas in detail.

• Let’s start with a list of the ideas, along with a brief summary of each one:

o In The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt explains that “realism” may be “the defining characteristic” of the novel (10). He contends that the novel “raises more sharply than any other literary form . . . the problem of the correspondence between the literary work and the reality which it imitates” (11).

o In The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence, Raymond Williams argues that from 1840 to about 1940, the central preoccupation of the novel was the “exploration of community” (11). “It is to just this problem of knowing a community,” he explains, “of finding a position . . . from which community can begin to be known, that one of the major phases in the development of the novel must be related” (17).

o In Desire and Domestic Fiction, Nancy Armstrong links “the history of British fiction to the empowering of the new middle classes in England through the dissemination of a new female ideal” (9). She argues that “narratives which seemed to be concerned solely with matters of courtship and marriage in fact seized the authority to say what was female, and that they did so in order to contest the reigning notion of kinship relations that attached most power and privilege to certain family lines” (5).

o In “Literature and the Moral Imagination,” a long essay focused on Henry James’s The Golden Bowl, Martha Nussbaum announces that “the novel can be a paradigm of moral activity” (148). She goes on to explain that the novel offers an image of “what moral attention is,” suggesting that the moral imagination must include “a respect for the irreducibly particular character of a concrete moral context and the agents who are its components” (162).

o In Consciousness and the Novel, David Lodge says that “the novel is arguably man’s most successful effort to describe the experience of individual human beings moving through space and time” (10). Lodge argues that the development or discovery of “free indirect style” was crucial to the novel’s success, since it allowed for a “fusion of first-person and third-person perspectives” (38).


• You’ll choose one of these big ideas and one of our novels. Your aim will be to explore the powers and limitations of the idea, using the novel as a kind of test case.

• Assume that your reader is familiar with the texts you’re discussing—and eager to gain a better understanding of them. If you can help your reader to reach a sound conclusion about the powers and limits of that big idea, you’ll have written a good paper.


More details

• Look into several of the big ideas before choosing one to write about. By comparing and contrasting a number of ideas, you’ll gain a clearer sense of why each one is distinctive. You can find these readings on reserve in the library. Here are the pages to start with:

o For Watt, 9-34 and maybe 35-59 and 290-301
o For Williams, 9-27 and 185-92
o For Armstrong, 3-27, 251-9
o For Nussbaum, 148-67 in Love’s Knowledge
o For Lodge, 1-91 (currently on reserve as a photocopy)

• There are a couple of other sources to check out. Terry Eagleton has just published a very spiffy book called The English Novel, and in his opening chapter he lays out some of the problems we face when trying to distinguish the novel from other forms of writing. That chapter is now on reserve as a photocopy.

• You might also take a look at Michael McKeon’s fantastic anthology, Theory of the Novel, a book that’s also on reserve. The materials in the anthology are tremendously interesting, and so are McKeon’s own introductions and editorial notes.

• Once you’ve chosen to focus on one particular idea, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about it, mastering its details as well as its broader outlines. For a sense of those details, take a look at later chapters, especially those dealing with particular examples. If you find that your critic has written a chapter on one of the novels we’re studying, you’ll definitely want to take a look at what’s said there.

• As you deepen your understanding of certain ideas, you’ll need to see if those ideas have been reviewed or assessed elsewhere. In the cases of Watt and Armstrong, there will be lots of very interesting things to deal with. You won’t need to read every single one of the reviews, but you will want to know how other scholars have tended to look at the ideas in question.

• You should be working towards an argument or idea of your own—one that you can convey in a sentence (or maybe two). Your reader will be happy to linger over lots of interesting details, but not unless she sees them coming together in some way.

• Please don’t hesitate to speak with me at any stage of the writing process. We can talk over readings, sort through the topics, or go over a draft. If you’re eager to find out more about your critic or see how the critic’s work has been received, consult a reference librarian. They are happy to schedule individual appointments with students. If you’d like help with a draft, don’t hesitate to talk with a tutor from the CTL. Just remember to keep track of all the people who’ve helped you and to acknowledge their help at the end of your paper.


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last modified September 18, 2004