Henry J. Staten
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
English 242: the evolution of prose fiction
We will read five relatively short prose narratives (the longest not much over one hundred pages) that give us a taste of how prose fiction began and how it developed up to the point that Kafka enters the scene. We begin with a very funny Spanish narrative from the 16th century, Lazarillo de Tormes, which is about a poor beggar boy who gets into a variety of comical scrapes trying to get enough to eat, but winds up prosperous at the end. This is the first “picaresque” narrative (a “picaro” is a clever rogue who uses his wits to survive). Next is the 18th century Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic romance: an old castle, a dark family secret, a vengeful ghost, a beautiful young woman trapped by an evil-hearted older man. This is the ancestor of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, among many other later “Gothics.” The Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing, from the early 19th century, is a classic expression of German Romanticism, a whimsical tale of a fiddle-playing peasant boy who works for a noble family and falls in love with the daughter of the nobleman, then goes through a series of exotic adventures before winning her love. Then in 1899 was published Heart of Darkness, which mixes romance and realism in a striking new way. Finally, Kafka’s Metamorphosis takes us into the strange new 20th century world of “fantastic” fiction.
We will compare the different ways these texts are put together in order to get a sense of the conventional nature of fiction—that is, of the way in which fiction is determined, not so much by some reality that it “represents,” but by the rules of fiction-making, rules that differ from one genre to another, and from one historical period to another.
This is a “W” course. I will ask you to write three essays analyzing the works studied, for a total of 10-15 pages. Your entire course grade will be determined by these essays.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
lecture and discussion, with a lot of close reading of the texts
Class assignments and grading