The novel is a radically capacious and always evolving genre, open to the full range of world literature, across periods and locations. This seminar examines the novel and its various, overlapping functions as aesthetic object, cultural artifact, historical text, and conceptual resource. Through comparative and multidisciplinary inquiry, we approach the novel from a wide range of vantage points.

Upcoming Events

Rachel Buurma, Swarthmore College
Petra McGillen, Dartmouth College
Simon Reader, City University of New York
The Novel and its Working Methods: A Workshop
Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 6:00pm
Lower Library, Robinson Hall


Rachel Buurma (English, Swarthmore College)
"The Preparation of the Victorian Novel"

What might we gain from thinking about the composition of novels and the criticism of them as more similar than different? Following Roland Barthes’s “The Preparation of the Novel,” I ask how understanding novelists’ research practices can help us rethink both qualitative and quantitative ways of knowing the Victorian novel. Taking Victorian novelist Charles Reade as a case study, I examine his research and note-taking practice to ask how an attention to the ways novelists compose out of varied sources, texts, and pre-existing imagined worlds might help us think at scales between the individual novel and the large corpus.

Petra McGillen (German, Dartmouth College)
"The Compiler’s Moment: Fontane and the Manufacture of Nineteenth-Century Realism"

The compiler is typically not included among the official dramatis personae of nineteenth-century literary history. Behind the scenes, however, the compilation of gleaned materials flourished in several contexts, from journalism—newspapers were essentially compilations—to hack-writing (e.g. in the form of the Kolportage novel). Even the canonical German realist Theodor Fontane compiled his novels. Analysis of his unpublished notebooks and other “paper tools” reveals that his creative process followed a “copy and mix” strategy that not only responded to the challenges posed by the industrialization of print, but also anticipated aesthetic features of contemporary remix culture.

Simon Reader (City University of New York - Staten Island)
"Blankness: Unrecovering Vernon Lee"

Vernon Lee continues to be a subject of recovery for scholars of Victorian literature and aesthetics. Yet she valued her marginality, a fact attested by thirteen hundred pages of handmade notebooks that she kept between 1885 and 1900. Flickering on the edges of an already minor corpus, these books do not represent Lee's attempts to gain literary prestige but instead serve as technologies for the mode of aesthetic contemplation privileged in her own studies of beauty. This style of attention involves focussing on the “uninteresting blankness” of phenomena that fall afoul of significant structures in nature, art, and narrative.

Cosponsored by the History of the Book seminar.

Julia Prewitt Brown, Boston University
Mary Favret, Johns Hopkins University
Sonia Hofkosh, Tufts University
Claudia Johnson, Princeton University
Peter Sabor, McGill University
Jane Austen: 200 Years On
Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 6:00pm
Room 133, Barker Center

Cosponsored by the 18th-Century Studies seminar

Michael Gorra, Smith College
Criticism as Narrative: Audience, Public Scholarship, and the Biography of a Book
Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 6:00pm
Room 133, Barker Center

Past Events 2017 - 18

Adela Pinch, University of Michigan
The Story of O.: Margaret Oliphant and Anti-Metalepsis
David Alworth​, Harvard University
Paratextual Art​

Past Events 2016 - 17

Joseph Slaughter, Columbia University
State Secrets, Small Wars, Smaller Novels
Maya Jasanoff, Harvard University
“Fiction is History, Human History, Or It Is Nothing": A Historian Reads Joseph Conrad
“New Work in Novel Studies”: A Symposium for New Researchers
Wendy Anne Lee, New York University
Sense and Sensibility, Causation and Contiguity: Thinking through Relation in Austen and Hume
Homi Bhabha, Harvard University
Intimations of the Afterlife
Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University
Vitalizing the Bildungsroman
Numbers in the Novel: A Roundtable

Past Events 2015 - 16

Bill Brown, University of Chicago
Re-Assemblage (Theory, Practice, Novel Form)
Elaine Freedgood, New York University
How the Victorian Novel Got Realistic (in a French Way), Reactionary and Great
Peter Mendelsund, Knopf Publishing Group
The Art of the Book Cover
New Work in Novel Studies Symposium
Thomas Pavel, University of Chicago
What Do Novels Speak About?
Description in the Novel