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A C T I O N   A N D   T H E   N O V E L

Professor Jami Bartlett
169 MKH
M/W 11:30-12:30

HH 230
M/W 10:00-11:20



Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. (1847) New York: Oxford, 2008.
Collins, Wilkie. The Woman in White. (1859-60) New York: Oxford, 2008.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. (1846) New York: Oxford, 2008.

Additional readings posted to the course website


In this course we will examine the qualities that distinguish an “action” in the novel from any old thing that happens. Assisted by readings in philosophies of practical reason and intentionality, our focus will include analyses of mental events like plans and beliefs, as well as descriptions of action sequences and their causal chains. We will put these theories in dialogue with the novel, a form that relies on its actions for both its force and its (often considerable) length. In order to avoid taking action as an unexplained “given,” we will motivate it through its “grounds”—we will think of the action itself as expressive of its reasons for being an action. The desirability of any particular action can be found embedded in the descriptions possible of that action, and we will learn how to extrapolate from these descriptions to locate the spectrum and logical strings of intentional actions that a novel is considering at any given time. Methodologically, we will learn how to imbricate traditional theories of the novel with philosophies of practical reasoning, instrumentalism, and rational choice, whose interest in the minutiae of everyday language and practices has a lot to say to the structure of nineteenth-century realist fiction. I will assume no prior familiarity with philosophy, or theories of action and character in the novel, and happily welcome all students interested in the period, in novels, in narrative theory, or in close reading.



Students will be expected to post responses to course readings, to deliver one oral presentation followed by some discussion facilitation, and to write and revise three short papers.  

Responses (20%): Each week, you will post a short response (300-500 words) to assigned readings on the course message board, located here: https://eee.uci.edu/boards/s16/23370/

Your responses should run between 300-500 words in length, and in them you should: 1) present an excerpt from the week’s required reading, preferably something we did not discuss in class, 2) provide an argumentative analysis of the excerpt, and 3) make connections between your analysis and another argument presented in class, or on the board. A thoughtful engagement with the texts prior to discussion will discernibly shape the quality and movement of our conversations and ground our analyses of particular texts, while giving you room to practice close reading and reply to other students’ questions and comments.

Presentations (20%): The oral presentation assignment is designed to teach you how to use public speaking to incorporate multiple texts into your course papers, to facilitate your collaboration with fellow writers, and to sketch a working hypothesis for your paper. You will be asked to provide the class with a brief overview of the assigned material, to prepare a series of observations about it, and to guide class discussion in response. The connections you make between the readings you are assigned are up to you.  Some of the questions you might want to ask yourself as you choose your passages and conceptualize your presentation are:

·       Definition: Does this selection describe an “action”? How do we know?  Why is that important?

 ·       Order: Can we make any claims about the logic behind the ordering of events in this selection?  Is it causal or contingent? Does it generate suspense, surprise?

·       Character: How does this selection depict character?  What does it say about a character’s relationship to plot?

 ·       Context: What is this selection’s function in the work it is taken from? Is the work’s larger design or motivation illuminated by a study of this selection?  Is it operating according to any law of genre, or form?

·       Narration: How does the selection you’ve chosen illustrate the relationship between story (content) and discourse (expression)? Does the selection draw attention to itself as “narrative”?

·       And, finally: How can we illuminate the stylistic or thematic construction of this selection through the lens of our other readings? What is the work’s philosophy of action? How is the author making a claim about the relevance of action for the formal systems of fiction or theatre?  If the work could be said to engage the theory featured in our other readings, is the outcome corroborative or contradictory? Where does the work break apart when we apply pressure to its use of action, and how?

We will use your presentation as a springboard for class discussion, and offer feedback on your hypothesis, its supporting textual evidence, and its contribution to the course’s overall interests and objectives. Each student will also anonymously assess the effectiveness of the presentation’s delivery and supplementary materials, such as handouts and slides.

Papers (60%): The formal writing assignments for this course will be short (4-6 pages), and each will be revised once, following a round of peer review. You will not be provided with paper topics, but I will be clear about my expectations for each assignment and offer feedback, as needed.


·       Adequate preparation for class discussion is an essential part of the course’s value. I will expect your thoughtful engagement with assigned materials and fellow students.

·       All writing for this course must be typed and stapled with one-inch margins, double spacing, and standard 12 pt. fonts.  Please do not use fixed-width typefaces (such as Courier), as they impair readability and look like an attempt to fill space.

·       The university policy on academic integrity will be respected in this course.  You must document all primary and secondary source materials within the bounds stipulated by the Modern Language Association.  Inadequate or inaccurate citation will inevitably affect your grade. 

·       Please retain copies of all work; papers can get lost, and the burden of proof is yours.  I will not accept late work, but if an emergency arises, I can be flexible as long as I am informed in advance.  I will be unfailingly strict on this point, as this course moves very quickly.


Response Papers: 20%
Oral Presentation: 20%
Paper 1: 15%
Paper 2:  20%
Paper 3:  25%



Monday 3/28

Wednesday 3/30
Dickens Chs. I-X

Monday 4/4
Dickens Chs. XI-XXI

Wednesday 4/6
Dickens Chs. XXII-XXIX

Monday 4/11
Dickens Chs. XXX-XL
Rough Draft 1

Wednesday 4/13
Dickens Chs. XLI-XLVII

Monday 4/18
Dickens Chs. XLVII-LIII

Wednesday 4/20
Brontë Chs. 1-4
Final Draft 1

Monday 4/25
Brontë Chs. 5-17

Wednesday 4/27
Brontë Chs. 18-22

Monday 5/2
Brontë Chs. 24-28
Rough Draft 2

Wednesday 5/4
Brontë Chs. 29-33

Monday 5/9
Brontë Chs. 34-37

Wednesday 5/11
Collins First Epoch: I-XII
Final Draft 2

Monday 5/16
Collins First Epoch: XIII—Second Epoch: I-III

Wednesday 5/18
Collins Second Epoch: IV-VII

Monday 5/23
Collins Second Epoch: VIII—Third Epoch: I-II

Wednesday 5/25
Collins Third Epoch: III-VII
Rough Draft 3

Monday 5/30

Wednesday 6/1
Third Epoch: VIII-End

 Wednesday 6/6
Final Draft 3
Due by dropbox at 5:00 pm