Course 2—Lecture

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The Novel: A mirror of the world
The novel, a long fictional prose narrative, is a latecomer to the literary scene—it's only some 300 years old. (Poetry and drama are much older.) In LitCourse 2 we discuss the birth of the novel and how it came to reflect a new way of seeing the world.

Reading
Arthur Conan Doyle—"A Case of Identity"


LitCourse 2
The Novel: A mirror of the world
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How the Novel Got Its Groove

Our beloved novel is just a baby, the last born in the family of literature.

Even though prose fiction (the stuff of novels) mimics the way we talk, its siblings—poetry and drama—came first ... by a good 3,000 years.


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How the Novel Got Its Groove

The great stories of Western culture began in Mesopotamia. They took two forms, continuing as such up through the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Epic poems: long poetic tales of gods and mythical heroes, recited from memory by traveling bards, later taking written form. (Homer's The Odyssey.)

Drama: growing out of religious ritual (it is believed) also taking poetic and, eventually, written form. (Sophocles's Oedipus Rex.)

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How the Novel Got Its Groove

Medieval writing, after the fall of the Roman Empire, was confined to the church. It existed solely to further the aims of Christianity. (Think of St. Augustine's Confessions or The City of God.)

The Middle Ages eventually saw the rise of a new art form—the medieval romance. Romances are long meandering tales of knights and high-born ladies, populated with threatening beasts and supernatural beings.


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How the Novel Got Its Groove

Romances continued to flourish into the 14th-16th centuries. (Think Le Morte de' Arthur or Beowulf.)

Form: poetic, moving gradually toward prose.
Plot: unrealistic, filled with coincidences and sudden interventions.
Structure: separate, loosely related episodes.
Characters: heroic warriors, villains, and damsels; flat, one-dimensional.

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How the Novel Got Its Groove

Scholars quibble over "The First Novel," but most agree that the genre grew out of medieval romances, beginning in the very late 1600's and early 1700's.

Travelogues also played a role in the novel's birth. These were popular, often highly exaggerated accounts of voyages and exploration. Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels came out of this tradition.


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How the Novel Got Its Groove

Fiction moved away from romances and evolved into "realism." Realist fiction depicts a more realistic view of life, by mimicking the way life looks and feels, especially for the middle class.

Literary Realism reached its highpoint in the mid- to late-19th century with writers such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and early Henry James.

Note: Writers such as Emily Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville are considered part of the Romantic era, which overlapped with Realism. Later writers like Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce are referred to as Modernists, a movement of the late 1900s, which flourished after World War I.


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Literary Realism

Plot

 Continuous storyline rather than episodic.
Linear time, moving from past to present.
Logical progression of events, not dependent on sudden intervention or coincidence.

Characters

 Convincing: motivations are consistent and obvious.
Coherent: thoughts and actions grow organically out of what comes before.
Multi-dimensional: rounded rather than flat or one-dimensional.


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Literary Realism — Worldview
Literary works and periods reflect a particular view of the world—the values and ideas prevalent in the society in which the writers live.

What follows is an overview of 6 basic ideals inherent in realism's worldview. We'll consider:

Truth and meaning
Reality
Order
Time and progress
Identity
Authority


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Literary Realism — Worldview

Truth and Meaning

Truth is absolute and universal; it exists
for all people, in all places, at all times.
Moral and religious values descend from those unchangeable truths.
Life has meaning by living in accordance with moral and religious values.


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Literary Realism — Worldview

Reality

Reality is knowable. You can know it through close observation, rational thinking, and logical reasoning.
Things are what they seem. If not, it is only a matter of uncovering the reality that lies beneath the surface.


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Literary Realism — Worldview

Metaphysical Order

Life unfolds according to a plan—through God, Fate or Natural Law (science).
Things happen for a reason or purpose, although we may not know why.
To understand or accept life's order, and to live in accordance with it, is to discover life's truth and meaning.


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Literary Realism — Worldview

Time and Progress

Time is linear; it moves in one direction—forward—and at the same metrical pace.
History is moving us away from a dark, suspicion-ridden past into an ever-brighter future.
Progress in science and technology is a boon to human kind and will continue so.


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Literary Realism — Worldview

Individual Identity

You are a stable and cohesive individual (the self is not fragmented).
You can know yourself and others.
Your identity is determined by . . .
economic lass (rank)
family lineage (bloodlines)
innate character (essence)


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Literary Realism — Worldview

Authority
Society had an overriding respect for authority, which was reposited in. . .

Individuals—dependent upon rank, age, and gender.
Institutions—monarchy; government; religious, educational and scientific bodies.


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Literary Realism — Worldview
World War I and Sigmund Freud's new concepts of human psychology were to profoundly alter realism's comforting certainties, ushering in a new literary and artistic era— Modernism.

For now . . .

Congratulations!
You've reached the end  of Lecture 2. To continue LitCourse 2, click "Reading" on the Course Tools menu to the right.

• "A Case of Identity"
Arthur Conan Doyle

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