University of Notre Dame

Knowing the World through the Novel

Course Number: ENGL 13186-7
Instructor: Sara Maurer

As readers, we often say that we read novels in order to understand people with lives different than ours. We think of reading as a way to be exposed to worlds unlike our own. But what exactly is going on when we read something that has clearly been made up in order to find out about actual experiences beyond our own? This class is designed to give students a way to think about the complexities and rewards involved in relying on fiction as a form of useful information. We’ll survey four landmarks in the development of the English-language novel in order to ask questions like: what techniques do writers use to establish their books as both true and invented at the same time? How do they teach their readers to pay attention to and make predictions about the stories they tell? When novels invite us to know the characters in their pages, what sorts of relationships are they inviting us to have? We’ll end the course by reading two novels written in the last twenty years, thinking critically about what sort of interactions they teach us to have with their fictional worlds. Students will be given a chance to push their writing skills further with frequent writing assignments and opportunities for revision. The class will mostly likely read Oroonoko by Aphra Behn; Tom Jones by Henry Fielding; Emma by Jane Austen; A Passage to India by E. M. Forster; The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead; and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulowayo.

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