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

Numbers in the Novel: A Roundtable
Tuesday, May 2, 2017 - 5:00pm
Room 133, Barker Center


James English, University of Pennsylvania
Martin Amis, The Information

David Kurnick, Rutgers University
Jane Austen, Persuasion

Yoon Sun Lee, Wellesley College
Walter Scott, Waverley

Gage McWeeny, Williams College
George Eliot, Middlemarch

Mingwei Song, Wellesley College
Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, trans. Ken Liu

Our speakers were given the following prompt:

Some of the standard twentieth-century accounts of the novel sometimes appear to assume that the form is incapable of counting further than one (the individualized protagonist viewed against the backdrop of the undifferentiated, un-enumerated crowd) or two (the romantic couple of the marriage plot)--but are other measures and metrics also part of the novel’s formal repertory and history? Did these standard accounts underestimate, for instance, the form’s involvement with modern sciences of the social and of the state (statistics) and these sciences’ defining concerns with groups and populations? How does the novel itself deploy quantification? How much data is in the novel? And what kind? How, for instance, has the novel interacted with the census and the other forms of big data that have evolved alongside it? What forms of personhood do novels that trade in numbers posit? How do numbers reframe concepts such as probability, chance, or calculation in the novel? How has an engagement with large numbers and data sets underpinned the form’s claims to be proffering objective representations? And finally . . . what is the appropriate scale of analysis that scholars should adopt to answer such questions? Are there ways, in fact, in which might we use the history and the form of the novel to challenge the disciplinary division that is often thought to separate those scholars who count (numerate students of STEM subjects, for example) from those who don’t (e.g. innumerate students of the humanities)?

Co-sponsored by the Victorian Literature and Culture seminar.

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

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