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Spring 2013 Undergraduate English Courses

350:391 The Picaresque Novel in the Long Eighteenth Century

01  MW7  CAC  49338  PETERSON  MU-114

01-The Picaresque Novel in the Long Eighteenth Century
The picaresque genre casts its wandering protagonist adrift in a world of uncertain fortunes and misfortunes. Outcasts and vagrants populate the pages of Spanish, French, and British narratives of desperation and survival as commercial economies transform modern societies. Our class will examine the picaresque as a genre particularly useful for understanding the eighteenth century’s shifting attitudes toward individualism, collectivity, and causation. We will consider the figures of chance and of fate that disrupt or create unity out of random events from both literary and philosophical perspectives by reading picaresque texts alongside non-literary sources. We will look at the vexed role of chance in empiricism, narrative theories of probability, and contemporary thought. Did authors in the era of the Enlightenment consider the world to be Providentially ordered, mechanistically determined, or somehow out of control? Texts such as The Adventures of Roderick Random and Tom Jones testify to an urge to discern patterns behind disorderly everyday events. What formal aspects of the picaresque make it such an appropriate venue for exploring questions of causality? While our class casts a wide net in defining the picaresque, we will consider the problems of generic classification that confront a mode that is at once rooted in a particular historical moment and at the same time something of transnational vagrant itself. Readings will include the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes, and texts by Francisco de Quevedo, Miguel Cervantes, Alain Lesage, Tobias Smollett, Henry Fielding, David Hume, Samuel Johnson, and Denis Diderot.