Everything But Modernism: Low to Middling Genres

English 154b, Autumn Quarter 2010, MW 3:15–5:05, 160-317

Instructor: Andrew Goldstone (Office/Hours: 460-315/TuW 1:30–3:00)

Printable syllabus (pdf)

CourseWork site for this course


The typical class on early-twentieth-century literature focuses on the serious, experimental, high-cultural literature that has come to be known as "modernism": Joyce and Woolf and Faulkner, Eliot and Pound and Yeats. This isn't that class. Instead, this seminar explores some of the many genres that got their start in Britain and the United States around 1900 and continue to flourish today, even if they aren't always classified as "literature": mystery, romance, thriller, science fiction. The course studies these genres as they were practiced between 1900 and 1940; it will also examine a more respectable form from the same period that was nonetheless too popular for the most advanced taste: the realist novel. And we will spend a week reflecting on genre in poetry as well.

Then as now, genres like mystery and romance were the most widely-read kinds of fiction, but they were, and are, considered less prestigious, less significant, and more ephemeral than the sort of literature esteemed by educated people, studied in college courses, and examined in scholarly books. Rejecting this narrow view that nothing but the advanced high culture of modernism matters to literary-historical study, this course takes all these low to middling genres seriously, surveying key examples from both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, taking these genres seriously doesn't mean we needn't have fun reading them. One major aim of the course is to recover part of the history of reading for pleasure—and to see where, and why, we do or do not enjoy another era's reading pleasures ourselves. Other themes of the course include: gender and genre among readers and writers; developments in publishing; sincerity and self-consciousness; the U.S. vs. the U.K.; sex and violence; realism or verisimilitude; the fantastic; the fictions and facts of social class; the impact of war; the varieties of prose style.

Class meetings will largely concentrate on seminar discussion of the assigned readings, as we work together to understand the genres and what they tell us about literature and culture in the US and Britain before World War II. Students will be especially encouraged to reflect on continuities and changes from the decades after 1900 to the present day. Occasional mini-lectures will add historical and literary-theoretical background.

The other major enterprise of the class will be a research paper; starting from one or more of the texts introduced in class, students will carry out their own research into one of the authors or literary genres we read together. Class library visits and research workshops will provide guidance and feedback for this project throughout the quarter.

Knowledge of modernism is not required for this course. Students with no previous coursework in literature must ask the instructor's permission to enroll.

Readings and Class Schedule

Primary texts will be available at the Bookstore. For those acquiring textbooks elsewhere (tip: amazon is currently offering free two-day shipping for students), I have noted the ISBN's of preferred editions here, but other editions are fine, and second-hand copies, if you can find them, may be less expensive still. Since many of the books are out of copyright, it will also be possible to find them in free or inexpensive electronic forms. Students wishing to make use of electronic texts must consult with me first.

Selected short secondary readings (to be announced) will be made available on CourseWork.

[Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, though available at the Bookstore, is not a required text for this course.]

I. Introduction

Monday, September 20. Introduction.
Examples of modernism; examples of "everything but." The question of genre.

II. Mystery: From Gentlemen to Hardboiled Detectives

Wednesday, September 22.
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (England, 1902; Penguin, 014043786X) (Early edition on Google Books)
(Links to images of the periodical publication in The Strand)
Explanation of how to not read in preparation for first skimming assignment
Note on skimming: Supplementary texts are assigned to allow you to practice the essential scholarly (and life) skill of not reading. You are to spend no more than thirty minutes examining them. You'll be asked to talk briefly about the material you skimmed in class.

Monday, September 27.
Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body? (England, 1923; Harper, 9780061043574, or, cheaper, Dover, 9780486473628)
Skim: Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Man in Lower Ten (US, 1909)

Wednesday, September 29.
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (US, 1939; in Stories and Early Novels, Library of America, 1883011078)
Chandler, "The Simple Art of Murder"

III. Romance: Sincere and Satire

Monday, October 4. Library day. Meet in Barchas Room, Green Library.
Class with Annette Keogh, Curator for American and British Literature.
Research methods. Dime novels and pulps.
Read, in preparation for discussion next class: Mary Webb, Precious Bane (England, 1924; Virago, 0860680630)

Wednesday, October 6.
Webb, Precious Bane
Skim: Ethel Dell, The Way of an Eagle (England, 1912)

(Friday, October 8. Study List deadline.)

Monday, October 11.
Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm (England, 1932; Penguin, 0143039598)

Wednesday, October 13.
E.M. Hull, The Sheik (England, 1919) (To be available as a packet at the Bookstore) (free Project Gutenberg full text)

Monday, October 18.
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (England, 1938; Avon, 0380778556, or, more expensive, HarperCollins, 0380730405)

Wednesday, October 20.
Presentations (10–15 minutes)

(Friday, October 22 Monday, October 25, at noon.) Presentation write-up due, 4–5 pp.
Please submit your paper, in PDF format, via your Drop Box in CourseWork.
This page explains how to produce PDF files.

IV. Genres of Poetry: A Case Study in War Poetry

Monday, October 25. American war poems.
Mark van Wienen, ed., Rendezvous with Death: American Poems of the Great War (excerpts) (University of Illinois, 0252070593)
Note: Please also begin reading Bennett's long novel The Old Wives' Tale so that you will be ready to discuss it next week.

Wednesday, October 27. British poems of the 1910s.
Marsh, Edward, ed. Georgian Poetry (England, 1911–1915) (excerpts) (Project Gutenberg texts of all the Georgian anthologies)
Reading assignment

V. Realisms

Monday, November 1.
Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives' Tale (England, 1908; Penguin, 9780141442112)

Wednesday, November 3.
Bennett, The Old Wives' Tale

Monday, November 8.
John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle (US, 1936; Penguin, 9780143039631; or in Novels and Stories, 1932-1937, Library of America, 9781883011017)

(Tuesday, November 2 November 9.) Research prospectus due
Paper assignment (pdf)

Wednesday, November 10.
Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (India, 1935; Penguin, 0140183957)

(Friday, November 12. Course withdrawal deadline.)

VI. Thrillers: Spies in Two Wars

Monday, November 15.
John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps (England, 1915; Oxford, 0199537879) (Project Gutenberg full text)
Buchan, Greenmantle (England, 1916; Oxford, 0199537852) (Project Gutenberg full text)
[Both Buchan novels are also available in a less attractive omnibus: The Four Adventures of Richard Hannay, Godine, 0879238712.]

Wednesday, November 17.
Geoffrey Household, Rogue Male (England/US, 1939; New York Review Books, 9781590172438)

(November 22–26. Thanksgiving recess; no class.)

VII. Science Fiction Before the "Golden Age"

Monday, November 29. Dead Week begins.
H.G. Wells, The War in the Air (England, 1908; Penguin, 0141441305) (Early edition on Google Books)
Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, "Sultana's Dream" (India, 1905)

Wednesday, December 1. Wrap-up.
C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (England, 1939; Scribner, 0743234901)

(Wednesday, December 8.) Research paper due, 10-14 pp.

(Tuesday, December 14. Grades due.)

Assignments and Grading

Seminar participation: 20%

You are expected to come to class prepared and ready to engage in discussion. The purpose of the seminar format is to allow you to take intellectual risks, trying new ideas, ways of expressing yourself, styles of argumentation, and modes of collaborating with others; to encourage you to take these risks, participation is a major component of your grade. You are, of course, expected to attend every class. If you have a serious reason why you must miss class, please contact me ahead of time. More than two unexcused absences will place you in danger of failing. If however you become seriously ill, please stay home, and get in touch with me as soon as you are well enough to do so.

Presentation and first paper: 30%

In the fifth week students will prepare a ten-minute presentation on some of the material covered thus far. This presentation must make an argument comparing two texts in relation to a single genre. This presentation should then be written up as a 4-5 pp. paper.

Research paper: 50%

In keeping with the course's emphasis on understanding literary history through broad reading, the quarter culminates in a research paper. The research paper will require you to study at least one primary text not on the syllabus. By the sixth week of the course you will select a genre to research from among those on the syllabus, including those studied later in the quarter. I will meet with each student in the course of this initial work. Making use of your skimming skills, you will prepare a prospectus for your research, including both new primary sources and secondary sources. You will then research and write a paper of moderate length, 10-14 pp., that displays careful reflection about the chosen genre and its place in twentieth-century literary and cultural history. These reflections must take the form of focused argument supported by textual evidence. One seminar will be at least partly devoted to a workshop on these papers.

Administrative Details

Honor Code

All students are to observe the Honor Code.

Students with Disabilities

Students who have a disability that may require an academic accommodation or the use of auxiliary aids and services should contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) as soon as possible so that accommodations can be arranged.

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