English 311/716 - The English Novel OVERVIEW

Each of our novels has been interesting in terms of the characters and issues it has presented, but also each one has given us an understanding of the novel's development.  Oroonoko (1688)is an example of the novel in the process of shaping itself.  Part memoir, travel narrative, and biography, it exposes tensions between romance and realism, fiction and fact, in the context of an individual as well as political, economic, and historical events.  Emma (1815) gives us a text more narrowly focused "on pictures of domestic life" in a country village, although London and the larger world are not completely out of view.  Focused on the realistic details of daily life and the perspective of its protagonist, the novel reveals how Emma is shaped by and resists social conventions and attitudes and questions whether or not her imaginative, independent mind is compatible with marriage, is best fostered through female friendships.  Austen also critiques, largely through narrative, the novel as a genre by showing romance while revealing its limits.  Finally, David Copperfield (1849-50) gives us a complete world, loaded with realistic details and characters that illustrate the bildungsroman and the issues its raises.  It is also a novel about writing novels--how representation is shaped by memory and language.  As we'll soon see, The Way of the World (1874-74) puts first and foremost "the commercial profligacy of the age."  Social norms and conventions give order and stability to society, yet characters in the novel challenge them for various reasons.  Of all of our novels, perhaps this one is the most "modern."