The Long Novel

Module Code: EN3616
Module Leader: Sean Gaston


This course focuses on four major novels in great depth in order to appreciate the unique form and possibilities of the long prose work.
The novels we will be reading are:

  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-1767) by Laurence Sterne
  • The Idiot (1869) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce
  • Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon
These novels highlight the development of the novel as a distinct literary form, from its emergence in England in the mid eighteenth century to its flowering in Europe in the late nineteenth century, to its radical reinvention in the early twentieth century and, finally, to its sprawling encompassing of history, politics and popular culture in the later twentieth century.

These are also long novels, and we will be spending three weeks on The Idiot, Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow and two weeks on Tristram Shandy. This will allow you to manage the length of the works and to experience the immersion in a comprehensive space of literature. This is a demanding but rewarding course.

As each of our four novels are recognised as works that changed how we understand what an extended prose work can do, we will be investigating the form of the novel. As we are drawn into the lives of the characters and the fictional spaces they inhabit we must also think about the way that language and shifting perspectives reveal the complex relationship between narrator and characters. In all of these novels the traditional notion of narrative is overturned, fractured and reinvented.

We will also be thinking about how we can analyse long written works not only through the selection of individual sentences or particular plot developments but also through the careful reading of extended passages, long scenes or whole chapters where the interaction of characters, shifting points of view and narrative complexity demonstrate the unique possibilities of the novel.

Drawing on novels from different historical periods and national traditions the novels that we are reading in this course will also give the students a chance to see that there are common motifs and exuberant innovations that still make the novel, as a form, quite distinct from poetry, drama, photography, film, television and contemporary interactive media.

Page last updated: Thursday 26 February 2015