Theory of Modes and Genres: Romance and Realism
We will read a series of literary works from France, Spain, England, and Germany, and in tandem with these literary works we will read a series of selections in critical theory. I will emphasize very careful attention to the literal wording of the texts we read; I will expect you to bring your texts to class every day, so that together we can analyze exactly what they say. All comments in class must be based in specific reference to the words of the text; all vague comments will be ruled out of order.
Our study of the texts will not, however, be restricted to “close reading.”
1. We will also study literary works in terms of the literary conventions that shaped them, and the way in which these conventions evolved over time, specifically the conventions of the “romance” /mode/ as they developed through various specific /genres,/from the “Chivalric romance” genre of the Middle Ages through the “Gothic romance” genre of the eighteenth century and the “art romance” genre of the Romantic period. Simultaneously, we will look at the way in which the conventions of “realism” slowly grew, partly within romance and partly as a critique of or reaction to the “unreality” of romance. The course concludes with /Wuthering// Heights// /as an example of a work that is equally shaped by the conventions of romance and those of realism.
2. And we will trace the social, political, and economic context within which romance and realism evolved. Chivalric romance developed within the aristocratic, knightly, “feudal” system; the critiques of and reactions to romance by “realist” authors arose in the context of the breakdown of the feudal system and the rise of the new capitalist system of wealth and manufacture. Realism culminated in the form of the/realist novel/, a form that was as closely aligned with the conditions of life of the new urban bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries as the chivalric romance was aligned with those of the medieval aristocracy.
And yet, the romance mode persists not only into the 19th but into the 20th and 21st centuries, “morphing” into new genres as it goes (/Star Wars, /for example, is “romance.”) This shows that literary forms have some sort of formal dynamic that can survive the demise of the historical conditions under which they arise; they do not, however, persist in their original form, but undergo changes under the pressure of historical change.
Our readings of literary texts will be organized around Northrop Frye’s theory of modes in /Anatomy of Criticism/, Auerbach’s reading of Chretien in /Mimesis,/ Watt’s account of the origins of realism, and Jameson’s theory of genre as mediation between the individual text and history in /The Political Unconscious, /Ch. 1, “Magical Narratives.”
Your grade will be determined on the basis of three essays, in which you will be expected to demonstrate careful reading of both the literary and critical texts, and thorough knowledge of my lectures.