Twentieth-Century British Fiction

9:05a-9:55a MWF (30) 3 cr.

Those of you who have seen or read Trainspotting know that England has problems with its borders. In one famous scene, the drug-addled Renton looks across the ruined Scottish landscape and shouts, "We're colonized by wankers!" This tension and the type of fiction it produces are nothing new. Since the early work of Daniel Defoe and Jane Austen, British fiction has been concerned with boundaries and their disintegration–the boundaries between nations and races, between the sexes, between the individual and an increasingly alien environment. The focus of this course is the twentieth-century struggle in British fiction between the rigidity of tradition and the drive for cultural freedom. Be prepared, then, for a course in which our vision is not limited to the drawingroom, but extends across class and sexuality, throughout the colonies, and beyond the law. Of course, we will look at true Brits, such as Woolf and Fowles, who can help us to establish the changing national perspective, but we will also focus on writers, such as Joyce and Rushdie, who seriously question the terms "British," "nation," and "the novel." And so, throughout, we will stir things up by examining notions of tradition by way of those who fall outside of it and of difference by those who embrace alternative traditions. We will also pay attention to lesser known voices that have unconventional and sometimes confrontational relations to "British" literature. Our goal will be to expand the borders of this field, or at least prove them to be false, and to let the likes of Renton have their say.

The course will proceed historically and consider four stages of development. First, we will explore the relationship between the collapse of Victorian culture and the move away from nineteenth-century realism in Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier and Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier. Next, we will look at the innovations of the high modernists as they were influenced by social revolution and the first world war, focusing on Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Then, we will consider the post-war years and discuss what one critic has labeled the "break-up of Britain," discussing the move toward the postmodern in John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman and Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Finally, we will consider recent post-colonial writings and the ways in which they have renewed and expanded the definition of British fiction. We will read Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.