Due in class #10
Please write a 5-7 page essay on one of the following two topics. If you have questions, problems, or simply want to talk through your proposed thesis, feel free to schedule a meeting with me.
Novelists of this period frequently describe or define the faculty of reason in relation to some other human faculty or condition (emotion/passion, superstition, madness, etc.). Write an essay reflecting on the relationship between reason and its others in Godwin, Edgeworth, or Austen; or, if you like, you may consider how two novelists define and evaluate characters based on their possession or lack of reason. While clearly reason is a desirable quality in all cases, how do individual novelists describe this faculty and its ideal exercise? What are the attributes of the reasonable person, and what are the principal obstacles to reasonable behavior? Finally, how do novelists conceive the status of reason relative to human faculties and experiences such as emotion, faith, etc.? Are these faculties necessary to each other, mutually reinforcing, or dangerously opposed?
In discussion thus far, we have had occasion to observe how frequently novelists reply to and engage with central social/political ideas of their time. While obviously fiction has qualities distinct from political prose, novelists do clearly respond to the political world of which they are a part. Write an essay reflecting on the relationship between one novel (by Godwin, Edgeworth, or Austen) and one or both of the political texts by Burke and Wollstonecraft. If we can see the novel as entering into a conversation with the political theorist, what sort of conversation is it? Does the novelist confirm, oppose, modify, or subvert the terms of the argument? Remember that the views of one character may not be the same as the novelist's, and that more than one character may contain elements of truth in the novelist's eyes. Does the novelist offer one perspective on the political argument, or several? Are these views consistent? Finally, how might you imagine Burke or Wollstonecraft responding to these fictional engagements with their ideas?
Due in class #24
For your second assignment, please write a 8-10 page essay on one of the following two topics; or, if you prefer, devise a topic of your own. You may, if you wish, write an essay on a single novel, or you may focus on and develop an argument out of a reading of two novels. In either case, be sure to organize your observations and reflections into a tightly-focused argument about the text(s) in question. As always, please feel free to contact me for an appointment to talk about your essay.
Scenes of education are integral to many of the novels we've read this semester. From the harsh lessons of Marianne's illness to Pip's sentimental education, many 19th-century novelists make the processes by which characters learn, grow, and change a central component of plot. Just as often, these novelists describe various forms of mis-education, depicting characters whose flawed intellectual or emotional upbringing causes them to take a turn for the worse. Write an essay analyzing the theme of education in any of the following novels: Sense and Sensibility, Waverley, Confessions, Frankenstein, The Last Man, Great Expectations. Feel free to focus on a character's education in a broad sense - his/her formative experiences - as well as on one's formal education (or lack of it). How do novelists conceive the objectives of education and/or the attributes of the fully educated person? What the potential obstacles to education or sources of miseducation, and how are these pitfalls to be avoided? Finally, how if at all does the theme of education support the novelist's didactic intent?
As a literary form narrating a character's development from youth to maturity, the Bildungsroman might be understood as the story of a protagonist who rises above his/her surroundings to become the person s/he is. In many if not all of the novels we have read this semester, however, a character's capacity for self-determination is often closely entwined with or defined by forces beyond that individual's control. Indeed, many characters in these novels are shaped by the various contexts in which they find themselves. For your second essay assignment, discuss the relationship between character and context in texts by any of the following authors: Godwin, Shelley, Scott, Dickens. Consider the lives of different characters of the novel in relation to their surroundings and the contexts that shape them: familial background, social class, education, etc. How do these various environmental factors act on or define the individual? Why do some characters struggle against their external circumstances while some passively accept the roles they are allotted in life? Which if either possibility leads to a greater degree of success and happiness? Above all, what do these authors seem to be suggesting about the capacity of the individual to become the author of his or her own life?
As a third alternative, you may write an essay on a topic of your choice, provided that you meet with me in advance to discuss your ideas for the topic. See me to schedule an appointment.