Fall 2018 Undergraduate English Courses

01  TTH5  CAC  18545  NOVACICH/ ZITIN  MU-212

Major Topics and Authors in British Literature:  Romance

From the court of King Arthur to the drawing rooms and servants’ quarters of eighteenth-century London to the sections of bookstores implicitly coded “feminine,” this course charts the various modes of cultural production that have been labeled romance. We will approach our investigation as a series of historical case studies—questioning at each leap through time the idea of a continuous development, let alone a single genre, and testing out whether “romance” can ever name a coherent, transhistorical category. Romance, after all, has referred to verse, prose, and dramatic forms; enduring classics of European culture and formulaic mass-market paperbacks; quests and adventure stories complete with dragons, disguises, and damsels in distress; and domestic tales of marriage and family, but also adultery and intrigue.

Gender and genealogy will therefore be central themes. Some versions of romance, the oldest as well as the most recent we’ll be looking at, assert a connection between birth and worth, suggesting that identity is determined by bloodlines, an idea that can be recruited to shore up other identities: race, religion, nationhood. Not all romance serves this conservative function, however. Romances in which genealogy determines identity depend on closed forms: the heterosexual couple, a bounded community. But open forms have just as strong, and as ancient, a claim: think of the knight errant. And both traditions dabble with coincidences and improbable outcomes, even magic, in order to realize visions of divine order and political stability. The syllabus will include medieval romances, one of Shakespeare’s tragicomedies, and narrative fiction from the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. Assignments include three very short papers (1–3 pages) and one longer essay (5–6 pages), a midterm, and a take-home final exam.