Twentieth-Century Fiction I

Greetings, Twentieth-Centuryists!

Welcome to the course! This website will always have the most up-to-date version of all the information on the syllabus. You can browse the schedule of readings and assignments in the course. Please also read the guide to purchasing the course books.

Course description

This course is a study of novels and stories drawn from the English-language literatures of the first half of the twentieth century. The goal of the course is to understand the many ways of being modern that the fiction of this period pursued, learning why “modernity” and “modernism” are powerful but problematic conceptual frames for approaching this epoch of literary history. Our readings will be clustered around five overlapping themes: the celebration of the aesthetic, race in global context, small- and large-scale violence, the social real, and cosmopolitan culture.

Though the enormous breadth of the production of fiction in English in this period makes any comprehensive survey inconceivable, the readings are chosen to indicate the range of that production. It is the argument of the course that this range—this diversity, in all senses, stylistic, thematic, generic, geographic, socioeconomic—is the most important fact about the fiction of this period. We will read fictions from the U.S., England, Ireland, and India; we will read avant-garde writing aimed at a self-consciously élite audience and genre fiction shooting for bestseller status; novels that document social and political conflict and novels that reject documentation altogether; texts with a global horizon and texts with a scrupulously local purview.

The format of the class will be mixed lecture and discussion. Normally each eighty-minute period will have two mini-lectures, each followed by small group discussion, during which the instructors will visit several groups.

Learning goals

  1. Develop the skills of interpreting and explaining individual fictions in the context of a range of historical possibilities.
  2. Be able to discuss critically the way each of the course texts participates in early-twentieth-century history.
  3. Understand the concepts of “modernism” and “modernity” and join the academic conversation about how those concepts fit or fail to fit the fictions we study.
  4. Gain a substantial knowledge of early-twentieth-century fiction in English through broad reading.