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Instructor Class Description

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Fang Li
ENGL 242
Seattle Campus

Reading Prose Fiction

Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.

Class description

This is an introductory course to 19th century British industrial fiction. Mid-19th century England was not one nation but two—the rich and the poor. Strikes were countered with starvation, and starvation led (as we shall see) to acts of terrorism. We pursue the course outcomes by discussing novels and articles related to these social conflicts.

Our line of pursuit will focus on two women writers’ responses. Over the quarter, you will be asked to read Mary Barton, Shirley, and North and South as a continuing dialogue/debate between two masters of the nineteenth century novel, viz. Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë. We will learn to read their novels for and even as arguments: as alternating turns in a sometimes heated conversation. By conversation, we mean that the novels can be read as answers to each other (as they were, in part, actually written). Our first task in this class is to recognize the participants for who they were. Some critics praised Charlotte Brontë as a true feminist heroine and patronized “Mrs.” Gaskell as a homemaking amateur full of sentiment and devoid of ideas. Lately other critics have come up with precisely the opposite conclusion, portraying Brontë as a romantic idealist and Gaskell as someone steeped in the great ideas of her time: evolution, rationalism, and even Marxism.

But our main task is to read the writers themselves and make up our own minds. Is the writing too emotional, even romantic? What is the role of rationalism and realism? What do you think of the statement that fiction is a lie that tells the truth? Above all, is the novel an effective mode of argumentation?

This course will allow you to develop your close reading and analytical skills, as well as providing you with a critical framework for placing novels in conversation with each other. Course requirements include a heavy reading schedule, student presentations and discussion-leading responsibilities. Because this is a W course, you will have the option of writing (and revising) either two 5-page papers or one longer 10-page paper.

*Course pack, available at Ave Copy Center

Ø Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, ISBN 0-19-280562-2 Ø Charlotte Bronte, Shirley, ISBN 0-19-929716-9 Ø Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South, ISBN 0393979083

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Fang Li
Date: 06/17/2008