ENG 308 Seminar: One Big Book

Michael Gorra, T 3:00 PM-4:50 PM

Topic for spring 2013: George Eliot's Middlemarch


The precise syllabus for this course remains a work-in-progress.  But I can give an outline of its topics as well as an explanation of its pedagogic purpose.  

Week 1:  Introduction


Weeks 2-4: A reading of Middlemarch, undertaken in conjunction with a biography of George Eliot.


Week 5-6: Eliot’s essays and relevant letters, with attention to her aesthetics and intellectual formation.  Selections include but will not be limited to her essays “The Natural History of German Life,” “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” “Evangelical Teaching” and other writings on religion; correspondence with Frederic Harrison; Ch  17 of Adam Bede; some of her travel sketches and journals; secondary works by Rosemarie Bodenheimer, Ruth Bernard Yeazell, and A.D. Nuttall.


Week 7: Publishing history and initial reception.  We will meet in the Mortimer Rare Book Room to inspect the novel’s rare first edition, in its eight original bi-monthly parts  Reading will include Eliot’s “Quarry” for Middlemarch, David Carroll’s publishing history of the novel (Clarendon Press, 1986), and a substantial compilation of Victorian and early 20th century criticism—say, from Henry James to Virginia Woolf.  The initial reviews as well—esp as they appared part by part.  Sutherland on publishing Middlemarch


Week 8: Reform:  readings in relevant political and medical history, with some attention to 19th century evangelical movements as well.  Secondary readings from recent Eliot scholarship will concentrate on these issues.


Week 9: Eliot and Victorian science; attention to GH Lewes’ Problems of Life and Mind, Darwin, etc.  Secondary readings drawn from George Levine and Gillian Beer among others.


Week 10-11:  Readings in Eliot scholarship.  Formalist readings from FR Leavis to the present; feminist scholarship.


Weeks 12-13.  Student presentations.  Also Karen Chase, ed. Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century (2006)


Books to buy: 


Eliot, Middlemarch (Oxford World's Classics)

Eliot, Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings (Penguin)

Chase, Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century.


Written work: In weeks 2-5 brief, 1-page responses to the reading, submitted and distributed electronically before class, to serve as a springboard for discussion.  In week 10: a 3-4 page assessment of an important work of Eliot scholarship.  The final paper will be about 18-20 pages, on a topic the student declares by spring break, and written in drafts.

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This course’s concentration on a single text, studied in its social, historical, and intellectual context on the one hand, and in relation to its reception history on the other, will allow students to write a more fully-developed long paper than is customary in most seminars, where one moves from book to book and topic to topic.  It’s meant to serve as a capstone, a culminating experience for senior majors; alternatively as good preparation for writing a thesis.