French 245B: The Epistolary Novel: From the Canon to the Archive

Instructor: Professor Nicholas Paige

This course fulfills an elective requirement for the DE in REMS.

The epistolary novel is a particularly curious literary artifact: unlike the third-person and the first-person novel, which have historically proven to be robust and adaptable forms, the letter novel enjoyed a spectacular if relatively brief moment of hegemony before fading into quaintness. This seminar has two aims. Mostly, we’ll be studying a series of five canonically important representatives of the genre, and acquainting ourselves with a variety of scholarly attempts to “motivate the device” of letters: it’s a form that has long been linked to the culture of sociability, to sentiment and sensibilité, to the advent of the private sphere, and even, recently, to the growth of the postal service itself. But we’ll also save part of the semester for thinking about how to approach the history of a form from below—that is, by developing ways of studying the whole archive of epistolary novels, the ones that, to use Franco Moretti’s image, never survived literature’s “slaughterhouse.” How, exactly, do forms catch on? Are periods of domination matched by formal regularity? Is decline sudden? Availing ourselves of the resources of mass digitization, we’ll spend the last part of the semester exploring such questions.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes