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Alicia J. Christoff (Section 01)
When we think of a novel, we usually think of a book: a single bound volume that we read from cover to cover. But in the nineteenth century, novels were published in a variety of different formats, from multi-volume “triple-deckers” to even smaller weekly or monthly parts. Reading a novel in parts meant devouring a few chapters at a time and waiting weeks to find out what would happen next, and it also meant living with characters for a very long time. In this seminar, we will read like the Victorians. The focus of our course will be Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, originally published in 20 monthly installments in 1852-53. Reading the novel in parts and making frequent trips to the archives to see it in its original form, we will ask: How does an understanding of serial publication change the way we see not only Bleak House, but also the novel as a genre? And finally, how do changes in technology, the marketplace, and literary form change the experience of reading itself?
To bring serial reading and Victorian culture to life, we will read Dickens alongside other fiction published in the same year and that nineteenth-century readers would have been reading simultaneously. How does Bleak House compare, for instance, to the sensational “penny dreadfuls” of the 1850s? What makes one work canonical and the other “merely” popular? Finally, we will consider modern versions of seriality by tracing a favorite TV show, blog, or graphic novel throughout the semester.
This discussion-based course will provide students with an introduction to college-level literary study and to archival research. Frequent short writing assignments focus on both literary analysis and gaining familiarity with the conventions of academic writing as well as expressive reflections on personal reading experience. Perhaps most importantly, this seminar allows us to spend an extended amount of time with one of the most celebrated novels in the English language, Bleak House, whose sheer length is both a treat and a challenge.
Fall semester. Visiting Professor Christoff.