“[T]here is not a place of splendor or a dark corner of the earth that does not deserve if only a passing glance of wonder or pity,” says Joseph Conrad in his famous “Preface,” where he discusses the purpose of art and particularly of literary fiction. During the 19th and 20th centuries, when the world lost (for good or ill) its sense of philosophical and theological grounding and consensus, we see a flowering of realistic fiction that seeks to portray both the splendid and the dark, to arouse wonder and pity, and to investigate questions of human meaning and purpose from a uniquely literary angle. In this course, we will study some of the great works of that period. We will investigate these authors’ investigations of the human being; but we will also consider these authors’ reflections on their own art, asking with Conrad, “What is literature for? What is it meant to do for and to us?”
We will read:
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Middlemarch by George Eliot, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, “Preface to the N—- of the Narcissus” and Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen.