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European Realist Novels
COL 256
Spring 2025
Section: 01  

The realist novel has a strangely ambivalent legacy. On the one hand, like other literary forms, it is repeatedly consigned, sometimes dismissively, to an earlier moment in literary history: surpassed by modernism, reimagined by postmodernism, and replaced by film, television, and whatever forms of new media might soon emerge. Yet it has also clearly endured--in the popular imagination as well as in the academy--as a pervasive norm, continually setting the standard against which popular narratives may be judged to be successful and (more importantly) serious. Reading these novels, then, does not just teach about an important period in literary history (though it does that, too); it gives us a better understanding of what we continue to expect from the fictional stories that claim to represent the world around us.

We will spend the first six weeks on an overview of the influential tradition of French realism, reading representative texts by Stendhal, Balzac, and Zola. In the second half of the semester, we will delve into two longer novels that have often been regarded as exemplary (even paradigmatic) works of realist fiction: Eliot's Middlemarch and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. While the emphasis will be on the novels themselves--what they do and how they work--we will also read a small selection of secondary texts (variously critical, historical, and theoretical) on realism, narrative, and the novel as genre.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA COL
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Student Option
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: None
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on JUL-20-2024
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