Forms of the Novel EN 250:001
Bentley College
Robert Crooks
Fall 1994

The Literature of Urban Life

Though novels have been written about many things, the novel as a literary form emerged along with the modern cities of industrial capitalism and has been an important medium for representing modern urban life. This course will cover novels written over the last two centuries that deal with life in the city, looking at relations between fiction and experience. We will look at the novels beside other accounts of urban life, including those of students. Emphasis will be placed on issues of law and justice in relation to individuals and groups. There will also be an optional service learning project involving recording the stories of teenagers in the Boston area.

Readings:

Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders
Stephen Crane: Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Richard Wright: Native Son
Paule Marshall: Brown Girl, Brownstones Jess Mowry: Way Past Cool
William Gibson: Mona Lisa Overdrive
Dean MacCannell: "Democracy's Turn: On Homeless Noir"

Course Objectives:

To gain a better understanding of the novel as a literary form

To gain a better understanding of the novel as an articulation of modern urban life

Requirements:

Quizzes: There will be frequent short quizzes on assigned readings. Your two lowest quiz grades will be automatically dropped, but missed quizzes cannot be made up.

Journals: Keep a journal on your computer, using Word Perfect, Ami Pro, or any ASCII text editor like the DOS editor or Windows Notepad; you should submit new entries to your journal every other Friday via e-mail. Your journal is a place to reflect on the course. Record your responses to the readings, to what goes on in class, and to your experiences in the course research project (the second essay). Your journal should be a source of ideas that you can later use other writing assignments, but should not be limited to that. Exactly what you write is up to you. In grading journals I will only consider the seriousness of your reflections, not your style and grammar or the particular views and opinions you express. There will be specific assignments for the journal on occasion, but for the most part it■s up to you to decide exactly what to comment on. You should make at least two entries in your journal every week. Be sure to date each entry. One specific journal assignment: over the course of the semester, you should include at least six "helpnotes" ─explanations of unfamiliar words, ideas, events, people, etc. that you come across in the course readings. Look these up and record an explanation. I will compile these explanations and save them for use in future versions of the course.

Formal writing assignments:

A short essay on the relation between fiction and experience, dealing with issues of representation, point of view, and narrative structure. The point of this essay will be to ask: "What is the novel (and by extension, literature in general) good for? How does it relate to our social and cultural experiences?"

A longer essay relating the assigned readings for the course to either: a) life stories obtained through the service learning project described below; or b) published autobiographical writings by inner city youths. This essay will include reflection on the role of the student and Bentley College in the Boston area and the problems of contemporary cities, particularly the problems of young people.

Service Learning Project:

Students will work with inner city youths, helping them to write their life stories. Students will provide various kinds of writing assistance, ranging from simply providing feedback to offering instruction on the use of word processors. Students may also share and discuss some of the class readings with the youths if there is interest. Some or all of the life stories will become part of a book being produced by photographer Bob Kramer, who is photographer in residence with the Bentley Service Learning Project this year. This project will be optional, but everyone in the class may participate.

Class Participation:

In general this class will devoted to discussing novels in relation problems associated with life in modern urban settings. One of my fundamental assumptions as a teacher is that we all learn more through an open exchange of ideas than through my lecturing to you. Therefore your regular attendance and active participation are expected and will be significant factors in the determination of final grades. In addition to that basic requirement, groups of students will also conduct one class discussion during the semester. For that class, the group will prepare a handout of relevant background materials for the novel being discussed, and a set of questions for general and/or small group discussion. Materials for the class should be sent to me via e-mail in advance for suggestions.

During the final two weeks of the course, the class will be conducted in the form of a mini-conference, in which the student groups will form panels, read their longer essays to the class, and take questions.

Grading:

Attendance, participation, quizzes             20%
Group preparation for one class discussion     20%
Class journal                                  20%
First essay                                    20%
Research project                               20%

Session 1
Introduction to the Course

Session 2
Read: Moll Flanders pages 29-53

Session 3
Read: Moll Flanders pages 154-230, paragraph 1.

Session 4
Read: Moll Flanders pages 230, paragraph 2-328, paragraph 2.

Session 5
Read: Moll Flanders pages 328, paragraph 3-End of the novel First journal entries due via e-mail by 9:00 pm.

Session 6
Read: Maggie pages 1-4; Group 1 will lead the discussion

Session 7
Read: Maggie pages 41-82.
Tell me your option for the final research project via e-mail.

Session 8
Read: Native Son pages 1-108.
Group 2 will lead the discussion.

Session 9
Read: Native Son pages 109-314.
New journal entries due via e-mail by 9:00 pm.

Session 10
Read: Native Son pages 315-502.
Send progress report on final research project via e-mail.

Session 11
Read: MacCannell: "Democracy's Turn: On Homeless Noir" (handout); Outline an essay on how novels about the city relate to people's actual experiences living in cities.
New journal entries due via e-mail by 9:00 pm.

Session 12
Draft: the essay on novels and experience.

Read: Brown Girl, Brownstones pages 1-62. Group 3 will lead the discussion.
Send progress report on final research project via e-mail.

Session 13
Read: Brown Girl, Brownstones pages 63-186.

Session 14
Read: Brown Girl, Brownstones pages 187-310. New journal entries due via e-mail by 9:00 pm.

Session 15
Read: Way Past Cool pages 3-97.
Group 4 will lead the discussion.
Hand in revised version of essay.

Session 16
Read: Way Past Cool pages 98-191.
Send progress report on final research project via e-mail.

Session 17
Read: Way Past Cool pages 192-310.

New journal entries due via e-mail by 9:00 pm.

Session 18
Read: Mona Lisa Overdrive pages 1-95.
Group 5 will lead the discussion.
Send progress report on final research project via e-mail.

Session 19
Read: Mona Lisa Overdrive pages 96-200. Outline the final essay and send it to me via e-mail.

Session 20
Read: Mona Lisa Overdrive pages 201-308. New journal entries due via e-mail by 9:00 pm.

Session 20
Draft: final essay
Reading and discussion of final essays. New journal entries due via e-mail by 9:00 pm.

Session 21
Reading and discussion of final essays.

Session 22
Final Exam
Reading and discussion of final essays.