Twentieth Century British Fiction

1:00p-2:15p TR (30) 3 cr.


Oscar Wilde once wrote that "In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing." While we could easily dismiss this statement as just another one of the dandy's quips, it is not hard to see, particularly in the case of Wilde's downfall, how style has become a grave political matter. In fact, outcasts and dissidents throughout the past century have turned to "style" not as a frivolous pastime, but as a way to negotiate their inferior social status, as an urgent mode of resistance and revolt. This class will explore twentieth-century British novels in terms of their own deviant styles and their attention to cultural stylization. We will consider novels that create or depict stylized subcultures and examine their efforts to speak for alternative subjects and communities. We will encounter groups such as Uranians, Vorticists, Punks, and Ravers, and we will consider the ways in which they have negotiated the norms of class, race, and sexuality. We will also address the following: the shift from modernist to postmodernist definitions of style; the differences between upper and lower class group formations; the ways in which certain technologies (radio, television, internet) affect cultural identity; the social geography of urban spaces; the commodification of style and the politics of cultural consumption; slang as it rejects and reflects dominant discourses; the emergence of British Cultural Studies and other academic efforts to theorize popular culture.

Discussions and papers will likely focus on Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray; Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway; George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying; Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange; Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia; Kate Atkinson, Behind the Scenes at the Museum; Jim Crace, Arcadia. Critical writings will include selections from Dick Hebdige, Subcultures: The Meaning of Style; Paul Gilroy, There Ain't no Black in the Union Jack; Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces; essays by Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Sarah Thornton, Pierre Bourdieu, and Fredric Jameson. We might also watch a few films (Trainspotting; Naked) and listen to a couple of rock operas (The Who's Quadrophenia; The Kinks' Arthur).

This is a discussion-based course, so both attendance and participation are mandatory. Students will be assigned response papers, three exams, and two formal papers.