ENGL729D - Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Literature; Novels as Novelties
0101 - Tita Chico

This course will examine the emergence and proliferation of narrative form in the long eighteenth century. The period has long been associated with the “rise of the novel” thesis, with scholars offering various texts as instances of the “first” novel (e.g., Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, to name a few famous candidates). As a challenge to this teleology, this course is shaped by the hypothesis that narrative in the eighteenth century has a vexed relationship to the category of novelty, understood as at once new, strange, and even provisional. Novelty presupposes engagement with a wider world and a flexible relation to temporality; it may threaten institutionalization, but it can also be co-opted by it. We will view novelty simultaneously as an aesthetic and an ideology, and study its status as a critical keyword and flashpoint in philosophy, finance, art, and science. Through its various representations of desire, commerce, and migration, narrative form in the long eighteenth century refracts and deepens the period’s celebration and skepticism of novelty.


Our readings will be anchored by careful engagement with four of the most significant novels in the period, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749), Eliza Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless (1751), and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-67). In addition, we will consider late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century narratives, including Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and The History of the Nun, William Congreve’s Incognita, and Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina and Lasselia, and conclude our semester by turning to Matthew Lewis’s gothic novel, The Monk, and the sentimental novel, The Woman of Colour, published anonymously, but likely the first novel authored by a woman of color. We will place our novelistic readings in conversation with a variety of theoretical texts concerned with the progressive and retrograde possibilities of “novelty” in the British Enlightenment. Period works will include Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees, David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Contemporary theorists will include Lauren Berlant, Bruno Latour, Sara Ahmed, Jacques Rancière, and Michel de Certeau.


Course requirements will likely include active participation in class discussion, two or three presentations, a research proposal, and a seminar paper (20 pp.).


Due to its length, students are asked to read the unabridged Clarissa (Penguin, 1986; ISBN 0140432159) over winter break.