A printable PDF version of the course syllabus is available here: syllabus.pdf.

Course description

This course is a study of novels and stories drawn from literature in English from the 1890–1950 period. The goal of the course is to understand fiction’s many ways of being modern in a period marked by rapid changes in social life. The course especially emphasizes the social significance of literary style, the changing uses of genres like the coming-of-age novel, and the transformation of English into a global literary language. Texts include novels or stories by Henry James, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, and Djuna Barnes. Though the enormous breadth of the production of fiction in English in this period makes any comprehensive survey inconceivable, the readings are chosen to indicate the range of that production. This range—this diversity, in all senses, stylistic, thematic, generic, geographic, socioeconomic—is the most important fact about the fiction of this period. We will read fictions from the U. S., England, Ireland, and India; we will read avant-garde writing aimed at a self-consciously élite audience and genre fiction shooting for bestseller status; novels that document social and political conflict and novels that reject documentation altogether; texts with a global horizon and texts with a scrupulously local purview.

The format of the class will be mixed lecture and discussion. Normally each eighty-minute period will have two mini-lectures, each followed by small group discussion, during which the instructors will visit several groups.

Learning goals

  1. Develop the skills of interpreting and explaining individual fictions in the context of a range of historical possibilities.
  2. Learn to analyze how the course texts participate in twentieth-century history.
  3. Understand the concepts of “modernism” and “modernity” and join the academic conversation about how those concepts fit or fail to fit the fictions we study.
  4. Gain a substantial knowledge of early-twentieth-century fiction in English through broad reading.

Requirements and grading

5% Participation in class

This class emphasizes active learning. Since every class session will require you to discuss the readings with your peers and with the instructors, attendance and participation are required. You will be graded according to whether you come to class, on time, with the reading done and the texts in hand; during the small group discussions, instructors will visit groups and take careful note of who is contributing thoughtfully and actively. Disruptive behavior during either lecture or discussion—including non-class use of computers or phones, inappropriate talking, multiple or group bathroom breaks, loud eating—harms everyone’s learning and will damage your participation mark.

All this is meant to encourage you to engage seriously with the ideas and ways of thinking we are developing in this course. You aren’t supposed to know all the answers in advance—but you are required to make your best effort to figure things out as we go along, and to work with your classmates to help them do so as well.

5% Regular informal writing assignments

The other aspect of course participation consists in informal writing outside of class. Every week each student will add to an electronic commonplace book; occasionally further analytic writing, on the basis of your own or others’ commonplace-book entries, will also be required and graded on a pass-fail basis. Each student will also be required to visit either the professor or the CA in office hours at least once during the term.

30% Paper 1 (5–7 pp.)

An interpretive essay making an argument about one text by James, Conrad, or Stein. Choice of topics distributed in advance.

30% Paper 2 (5–7 pp.)

An interpretive essay making an argument about one text by Joyce, Sayers, Hemingway, Woolf, Faulkner, or Hurston. Choice of topics distributed in advance.

30% Take-home final

Essay questions, open book, no collaboration.

Grading standards

N.B. You cannot pass the course unless you complete both papers and the take-home final.

Grades will be given on the four-point scale as specified in the Undergraduate Catalog. In converting the final numerical score to a letter, the equivalents in the Catalog are taken as the maxima of intervals open on the left and closed on the right. Thus A corresponds to scores strictly greater than 3.5 and less than or equal to 4.0, B+ to scores greater than 3.0 and less than or equal to 3.5, B to scores greater than 2.5 and less than or equal to 3.0, and so on. There are no “minus” grades. The general standards for grades are as follows:

A range (3.5, 4.0]: Outstanding. The student’s work demonstrates thorough mastery of course materials and skills.

B range (2.5, 3.5]: Good. The student’s work demonstrates serious engagement with all aspects of the course but incomplete mastery of course materials and skills.

C range (1.5, 2.5]: Satisfactory. The student’s work satisfies requirements but shows significant problems or major gaps in mastery of course material.

D (0.5, 1.5]: Poor or minimal pass. The student completes the basic course requirements, but the student’s work is frequently unsatisfactory in several major areas.

F [0, 0.5]: Failure. Student has not completed all course requirements or turns in consistently unsatisfactory work.

Academic integrity

Students and instructors have a duty to each other and to our community to abide by norms of academic honesty and responsibility. To present something as your own original writing when it is not is plagiarism. Plagiarism and other forms of cheating are serious violations of trust. Academic dishonesty, including plagiarism, will have severe consequences, in accordance with the University Policy on Academic Integrity and the Code of Student Conduct. For details about the University’s academic integrity policies, please see

Students with disabilities

All reasonable accommodation will be given to students with disabilities. Students who may require accommodation should speak with the professor at the start of the semester. You may also contact the Office of Disability Services (; 848-445-6800).


When commonplacing for a Monday class, you must post the blog entry by 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Thursday, September 5.

Introduction. What happened in fiction in English between 1900 and 1950?
Course books; requirements; grading.

(Sunday, September 8.)

Make a first commonplace book entry by 5 p.m.

Monday, September 9.

“Fiction” and aestheticism.
James, “The Art of Fiction.”
Wilde, “The Decay of Lying.”

Thursday, September 12.

What could it mean to be “modern”?
Woolf, “Modern Fiction.”
Wilson, Axel’s Castle, 3–4, 10–11, 14–21, 211–14, 225–36.
Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 47–54.
Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, 91–96.

Monday, September 16. Commonplace.

Realism or its aftermath.
James, “The Beast in the Jungle.”

Thursday, September 19.

Writerly craft, imperial know-how.
Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

Monday, September 23. Commonplace.

What makes a modernist text difficult.
Stein, “Melanctha.” Focus on the first half for today.
Paper 1 topics distributed: James, Conrad, or Stein.

Thursday, September 26.

Race and the dialect of modern writing.
Stein, “Melanctha,” continued.

Monday, September 30. Commonplace and analyze.

Artistic childhood; colonial childhood.
Joyce, Portrait, chaps. 1–2.

Thursday, October 3.

Orchestrating discourses.
Joyce, Portrait, chaps. 3–4.

Monday, October 7. No commonplacing.

Epiphany and routine.
Joyce, Portrait, complete (focus on chap. 4).
Paper 1 due.

Thursday, October 10.

Structure and arrested development. Exile.
Joyce, Portrait, complete.
(Very optional—a glimpse of what Joyce did after Portrait: chapter 4 of Ulysses, “[Calypso].”)

Monday, October 14. Commonplace and converse.

Not modernism: a detective novel.
Sayers, Whose Body?

Thursday, October 17.

Craft, minimalism.
“On the Quai at Smyrna,” all the interchapters, “L’Envoi,” and “Big Two-Hearted River” (both parts), in Hemingway, In Our Time. Also read: “Indian Camp,” “Soldier’s Home.” The rest of the collection is optional.

Monday, October 21. Commonplace.

Masculinity, the postwar.
Hemingway, In Our Time, continued.

Thursday, October 24. Guest lecture by Ian Bignall.

Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.
Focus on the first half of the novel, up through the tolling of twelve o’clock (p. 94).

Monday, October 28. Commonplace and converse.

Gender, the postwar.
Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.

Thursday, October 31.

Modernity again. Woolf and Sayers compared.
Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.
Woolf, “Modern Fiction.”
Zwerdling, “Mrs. Dalloway and the Social System.”

Monday, November 4. Commonplace.

Multiple perspectives and social status.
Faulkner, As I Lay Dying. Focus on the first half, through Tull’s chapter beginning “When I told Cora how Darl jumped out of the wagon.”

Thursday, November 7.

The grotesque; the significance of regionalism.
Faulkner, As I Lay Dying. Read the whole novel.
Paper 2 topics distributed: Joyce through Hurston.

Monday, November 11. Commonplace.

Indian writing in English; comparative colonial fiction; dialect of modern writing again.
Anand, Untouchable. Read the whole novel.

Thursday, November 14.

Consciousness and status revisited; the social problem novel.
Anand, Untouchable.
(Recommended: begin reading Hurston.)

Monday, November 18. Commonplace.

Harlem Renaissance (late phase); dialect of modern writing once more.
Hurston, Their Eyes. Focus on chaps. 1–5 (through p. 50).

Thursday, November 21

Respectability and gender.
Hurston, Their Eyes. Focus on the first half (through p. 99).

Monday, November 25. No commonplacing.

Play, work, love.
Hurston, Their Eyes. The whole novel.
Paper 2 due.

Tuesday, November 26. (Thursday classes meet today.)

Environmental disaster, a social experience. Hurston, Their Eyes.
Recommended: Bone, “The (Extended) South of Black Folk.”

(Thursday, November 28. Thanksgiving recess.)

Monday, December 2. Commonplace: historical line.

Expatriation and the interwar period.
Barnes, Nightwood. Focus on the first half, through “ ‘The Squatter’ ” (3–83).

Thursday, December 5.

Queer narrative, style, community.
Barnes, Nightwood. The whole novel.

Monday, December 9. Commonplace.

Indian English writing: another path.
Narayan, Malgudi Days, selections. Please read in the following order, which tracks the order of publication rather than the order Narayan chose much later for the collection:

  1. “Father’s Help” (66–72) (1942)
  2. “Out of Business” (91–96) (1942)
  3. “Attila” (97–101) (1942)
  4. “The Axe” (102–7) (1942)
  5. “Forty-five a Month” (85–90) (1943)
  6. “Engine Trouble” (78–84) (1943)
  7. “Iswaran” (53–60) (1944)
  8. “Fellow-Feeling” (40–46) (1944)
  9. “Gateman’s Gift” (26–33) (1944)
  10. “An Astrologer’s Day” (9–13) (1944)
  11. “The Doctor’s Word” (21–25) (1944)
  12. “The Missing Mail” (14–20) (1944)
  13. “Lawley Road” (111–17) (1956)

Thursday, December 12. Reading day; no class.

Last day to make arrangements to submit the take-home final electronically.

(December 16–23. Exam period.)

Monday, December 16

Take-home final distributed. The exam is designed to be completed in three hours. Spend no more than four hours.

Tuesday, December 17.

Take-home final due by 3 p.m. Submit in person in Scott 207 between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. Earlier or electronic submission by arrangement only.


isbns are included to help students ordering books online.

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London: Penguin, 1935. isbn: 9780140183955.

Barnes, Djuna. Nightwood. New York: Norton, 2006. isbn: 9780811216715.

Bone, Martyn. “The (Extended) South of Black Folk: Intraregional and Transnational Migrant Labor in Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Their Eyes Were Watching God.” American Literature 79, no. 4 (December 2007): 753–79. Recommended.

Bürger, Peter. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Translated by Michael Shaw. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. Excerpt on Sakai.

Casanova, Pascale. The World Republic of Letters. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. Excerpt on Sakai.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. In Youth: A Narrative; and Two Other Stories. Recommended.

_________. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Rev. ed. Edited by Cedric Watts. Oxford University Press, 2002. isbn: 9780199536016. Online alternative available.

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage, 1990. isbn: 9780679732259.

_________. As I Lay Dying. New York: Norton, 2009. isbn: 9780393931389. Alternate edition with notes.

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York: Scribner, 1996. isbn: 9780684822761. There is no acceptable online alternative.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. isbn: 9780061120060.

James, Henry. Major Stories & Essays. New York: Library of America, 1999. isbn: 9781883011758. Recommended.

_________. “The Art of Fiction.” In Partial Portraits. New York: Macmillan, 1894. Internet Archive. Print alternative recommended.

_________. “The Art of Fiction.” In Major Stories & Essays. Online alternative available.

_________. “The Beast in the Jungle.” In The Better Sort. New York: Scribner, 1903. Internet Archive. Print alternative recommended.

_________. “The Beast in the Jungle.” In Major Stories & Essays. Online alternative available.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Huebsch, 1918. Internet Archive. This terrible online text is a last resort for your studies.

_________. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Edited by Jeri Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Strongly recommended. Online texts are bad.

_________. “[Calypso].” Chap. 4 in Ulysses, 1st ed. Paris: Shakespeare & Co., 1922. Victoria, Canada: Modernist Versions Project, 2012. Very optional.

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006. isbn: 9780143039655. Recommended. Alternate text, lacking one story, on Sakai.

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009. isbn: 9780486473628. There is also a Harper edition (same text, different pagination).

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. New York: Grafton, 1909. Internet Archive. Print alternative recommended.

_________. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. 1909. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1994. isbn: 9780486280592. Online alternative available.

Wilde, Oscar. “The Decay of Lying.” In Intentions. New York: Brentano’s, 1905. Internet Archive. One of two online versions.

_________. “The Decay of Lying.” In Intentions. London: James McIlvaine, 1891. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1999. One of two online versions.

Wilson, Edmund. Axel’s Castle: A Study of the Imaginative Literature of 1870–1930. 1931. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. Excerpt on Sakai.

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 146–54. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925. Excerpt on Sakai.

_________. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt, 1925. isbn: 9780156628709. Online texts of this title are unacceptable.

Zwerdling, Alex. “Mrs. Dalloway and the Social System.” PMLA 92, no. 1 (January 1977): 69–82.


Thanks to Marianne DeKoven and Octavio R. Gonzalez for suggestions and models.

This syllabus is available for duplication or modification for other courses and non-commercial uses under a CC BY-NC 3.0 license. Acknowledgment with attribution is requested.