The English Novel

Course No. 2429
Professor Timothy Spurgin, Ph.D.
Lawrence University
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Course No. 2429
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Course Overview

Who can imagine life without novels?

They have served not merely as diversions but as companions for so much of our lives, offering hours of pleasure and, at their best, insights few of us can ever quantify. And if the speed at which they pile up by our bedside often exceeds our ability to read them, there's a security in looking ahead to the next enticing volume.

But the simple joy of reading novels sometimes obscures our awareness of the deeper roles they play in our lives: honing our intellect, quenching our emotional thirsts, and shaping our sense of ourselves and of the world we live in.

Many of our most basic assumptions, as Professor Timothy Spurgin notes, have been shaped by novels. To the extent that we see society as complex and interconnected, or view human personality as the product of early childhood experience, we are—whether we realize it or not—under the influence of novelists like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

The impact and significance of the novel form may be especially obvious in the case of the English novel. Through the period that gave rise to the novel, England experienced a convulsive social transformation—one that produced the world's first modern, capitalist economy. Along the way, traditional social values often appeared to be outdated, and so did traditional narrative forms.

It is no surprise, then, that the great English novelists were eager to create something new and different. Breaking from traditions in which stories were usually centered on aristocrats and nobles, they focused on the thoughts and feelings of ordinary people, taking pains to capture the rhythms of everyday life. At the same time, they also reacted to a number of larger developments: industrialization and urbanization, democratization and globalization.

What insights and attitudes do we owe to these writers? How do their lives and works fit into the larger history of the novel form—and what is the meaning of that history for us today?

Professor Spurgin answers these questions and many others, tracing the novel from its beginnings in the 18th century, when Samuel Richardson penned Pamela, to its culmination in the work of the 20th century Modernists, including Lawrence, Joyce, and Woolf.

Learn What Made the English Novel Different

Although you may have read or seen film versions of some great English novels, you may not have had the chance to place those works in a larger historical context or to consider some of their most distinctive features.

In The English Novel, Professor Spurgin identifies several especially important elements of the English novel tradition:

  • A preoccupation with issues of class and status
  • A virtual obsession with stories of courtship, love, and marriage
  • A striking preference for "comedic" endings, in which virtue is rewarded and justice meted out.

What's more, Professor Spurgin relates the plots and characters of particular novels to larger movements in English history. He shows, to cite just two examples, that Austen's Pride and Prejudice responds to deepening worries about the moral authority of the ruling classes, and that Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles reflects the influence of new discoveries in science, including Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Thus, this is much more than a literature course. Indeed, it consistently reminds us that the English novel does not exist in a vacuum.

New Forms of Literature

Although all literary and narrative forms are shaped by larger historical movements, the novel may be especially well-suited to the tasks of sociological critique and psychological analysis. In fact, as Professor Spurgin argues, such tasks are taken up by the novel in especially interesting and exciting ways.

"A great novel often seems to describe an entire society," he explains, "creating a vivid image of the relationships among whole classes of people. It's no wonder that novels are frequently described as the forerunners of modern ethnographies and social histories.

"Equally important to a definition of the novel form," he adds, "is its interest in psychology. Unlike other popular narrative forms—film, for example, or even drama—the novel is free to probe the inner recesses of both mind and heart."

In describing these aspects of the novel form, Professor Spurgin also tells how classic works of fiction were originally produced and consumed. Consider, for example, the circulating libraries on which most Victorian readers of fiction relied so heavily. These libraries, which might be likened to modern video stores, were not only outlets for the rental of books; they also exerted a profound influence on both form and content.

Novels tended to be published in three volumes because such a format enabled three people to be reading—and renting—the library's novel at the same time. And because writers were dependent for their livelihoods on having their books available through circulating libraries, these institutions were able to exert tremendous market pressure on authors, discouraging them from writing about subjects that might embarrass or confuse young readers, especially women.

"Minds Unfurnished with Ideas"

Such a notion was not unusual for that era, and it was one that had been around for most of the novel form's history. Samuel Johnson, one of the great literary figures of 18th-century England, reflected the viewpoint of the time—that moral considerations were an essential part of literary evaluation—when he proclaimed in an essay: "These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct and introductions into life. They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account."

It wasn't until the 1880s and '90s that complaints about the circulating libraries' prudishness began to emerge, seriously eroding much of their influence by the turn of the century.

In another example, Professor Spurgin offers a sampling from the opening passage of Dickens's Bleak House—among the most famous openings in English fiction, indeed in all of fiction. The passage is filled with extraordinary bits of description, such as "Smoke lowering down from chimney pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of a sun."

But as Professor Spurgin points out, air pollution in Victorian London was far more than the stuff of literary detail. As the Industrial Revolution intensified, it became an increasingly serious problem, one that would persist for many years in spite of legislation aimed at addressing it. As late as 1952 people continued to die in London because of outbreaks of smog; in that year, in fact, it is believed that as many as 4,000 people perished in such an outbreak.

Dickens's familiarity with the hard realities of London life was gained by far more than observation. And it is characteristic of Professor Spurgin's approach that Dickens the man receives as much attention as Dickens the writer. For us to learn, for example, that Dickens's father had been sent to debtor's prison, forcing young Dickens to go to work in a factory, casts his novels in a whole new light. Dickens never got over the shattering of his youthful hopes of achieving some sort of distinction—even after he had done exactly that—and it is impossible for us now to read his tales of the desperately poor or disinherited, anxiously searching for a better place in life, without appreciating the deeply personal pain out of which it was written.

Glimpse the Human Lives

In the same way, Professor Spurgin leaves you with a new appreciation for what each of this course's writers meant to the development of the English novel—and to literature as a whole—and an understanding of the person behind the words.

By placing more than two centuries of great English novelists in the context of British history and showing how their lives intersected with the creation of their art, The English Novel offers a fascinating look at a form of enduring popularity and importance whose influence has been felt everywhere novels are read.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Definitions and Distinctions
    This lecture offers an overview of the course and presents some of the defining features of the novel, helping us to understand how it differed from the literary forms that preceded it. x
  • 2
    The “Englishness” of the English Novel
    After further refining our understanding of the novel by exploring its preoccupation with the relationships between individuals and their larger social world, we consider some of the most distinctive features of the English novel tradition. x
  • 3
    Historical Context of Early English Fiction
    This lecture places the earliest English novels into a wider historical context as they begin to emerge in the middle of the 18th century, a period of convulsive social change. x
  • 4
    The Rise of the Novel—Richardson and Fielding
    To appreciate the historical forces at work in the earliest English novels, we consider the striking contrasts between authors Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding, the first representing the rising middle class, the second appearing almost aristocratic, confident, and secure in his own social position. x
  • 5
    After 1750—Sterne, Burney, and Radcliffe
    By 1750 it was clear that a new literary form had begun to take shape in England, distinguished by its use of realistic situations and settings. Those shared characteristics, though, need not suggest a uniform approach, as the writers covered in this lecture show. x
  • 6
    Scott and the Historical Novel
    We examine the work of the historical novel's greatest practitioner, whose career elevates the status of the novel form in England, where it had often been regarded as disreputable and dangerous. x
  • 7
    Austen and the Comedic Tradition
    The first of two lectures on one of the most popular of all English novelists focuses on the sociological dimensions of Jane Austen's work, noting her responses to larger historical forces and commenting on her use of comedic endings. x
  • 8
    Austen and the History of Consciousness
    Though Austen has been praised for many things, her greatest achievement, and her most important contribution to the development of the novel, may be her innovative treatment of human consciousness. x
  • 9
    Dickens—Early Works
    This lecture focuses on the early part of Charles Dickens's career, when he was regarded not as a novelist but rather as a writer of miscellanies and serials, including urban sketches that offered early signs of his obsession with London. x
  • 10
    Novelists of the 1840s—Thackeray
    In this lecture we focus on Thackeray's Vanity Fair, the first great multiplot novel of the Victorian Age, which, in its use of converging and diverging storylines, lays the foundation for many later works, including those of Dickens. x
  • 11
    Novelists of the 1840s—The Brontës
    Appearing in 1847, the same year as Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë take the English novel in new directions, echoing the revolutionary sentiments of the 1840s and challenging the limitations of earlier love stories. x
  • 12
    Dickens—Later Works
    Beginning with Dombey and Sons, his first mature work, we explore Dickens's development as a novelist who explores many of the deepest mysteries of life and completes the most impressive body of work in the history of English fiction. x
  • 13
    After 1870—Review and Preview
    We review the first half of the course and preview the second half's focus on the emergence of Modernist fiction, including the appearance of tragic and open endings, a greater frankness about sex, and a greater seriousness about the novel form itself. x
  • 14
    Eliot and the Multiplot Novel
    In this first lecture on George Eliot—in real life a woman named Mary Ann Evans—we will see why her career marks a turning point in the history of English fiction. x
  • 15
    Eliot and the Unfolding of Character
    This lecture concludes our examination of Eliot's masterpiece, Middlemarch, by discussing her approach to characterization, an approach that led Virginia Woolf to describe the work as "one of the few English novels written for grownup people." x
  • 16
    Hardy and the Natural World
    Like Eliot, Thomas Hardy is drawn to stories of disappointment and failure. Yet if Eliot considers the possibility of tragedy, Hardy embraces it, producing novels that end unhappily, often with the destruction of the main character, leaving us with no sense of poetic justice. x
  • 17
    James and the Art of Fiction
    Henry James is often credited with elevating the status of the novel in England, defending it by stressing its ability to expand our perceptions. This lecture traces this line of defense in The Portrait of a Lady, James's first great novel, and "The Art of Fiction," his most famous critical essay. x
  • 18
    Conrad and the “Scramble for Africa”
    Like James, Joseph Conrad explored the moral complications of storytelling, inviting us to wonder if we can ever really succeed in sharing our stories with others. Conrad is also the first great novelist in the English tradition to take up the subject of European imperialism. x
  • 19
    Ford and Forster—Transition to Modernism
    E. M. Forster and Ford Madox Ford are transitional figures, bridging the gap between the 19th and 20th centuries. This lecture concentrates on their relationship to earlier traditions and their anticipation of later ones, examining Forster's Howard's End and A Passage to India, and Ford's The Good Soldier. x
  • 20
    Lawrence and the “Bright Book of Life”
    With the appearance of D. H. Lawrence, the transition to Modernism is complete. Lawrence uses his works to raise questions about everything from industrialization to homosexuality. x
  • 21
    Joyce—Dublin and Dubliners
    In the first of two lectures on James Joyce, we examine both his early stories and his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which builds on the foundations laid by Austen and James and paves the way for Ulysses. x
  • 22
    Joyce—Realism and Anti-Realism
    We examine Ulysses, the novel usually considered Joyce's greatest achievement, and see how its simultaneous affirmation and negation of Realism sets him apart from other novelists and makes him one of the most important figures in the history of the novel form. x
  • 23
    Woolf and the Poetic Novel
    With Lawrence and Joyce, Woolf stands among the greatest writers of the modern age, crafting an art of shifting surfaces and obscure depths. Yet even as her work exhibits startling originality, it also acknowledges her debts to earlier writers. x
  • 24
    The Impact of the Novel
    In reviewing the second half of the course and considering the reasons for concluding our study in the 1920s, we also note a number of more recent writers—among them Salman Rushdie, Pat Barker, Zadie Smith, and Ian McEwan—and take a final measure of the novel's impact on our world. x

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
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Your professor

Timothy Spurgin

About Your Professor

Timothy Spurgin, Ph.D.
Lawrence University
Dr. Timothy Spurgin is the Bonnie Glidden Buchanan Professor of English Literature and Associate Professor of English at Lawrence University, where he has taught for more than 15 years. He received his B.A. at Carleton College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Virginia. A respected and admired lecturer, Professor Spurgin teaches courses on Romanticism, contemporary critical theory, and the...
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The English Novel is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 73.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good presentation of the subject Very enjoyable. Good grasp of the subject matter. Especially liked the professor's coverage of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens
Date published: 2018-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have not yet completed the entire course. I have the audio download and tend to listen to a lesson while on an exercise bike, so I probably do not absorb all that I should. Having admitted that, however, the course has provided a wonderful overview of the development of the novel form in England, and has inspired me already to read at least two of the novels covered (Pride and Prejudice and Emma), which I had never read before, and my appreciation for them is much augmented by the lessons learned from the course.
Date published: 2018-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great perspective on English novels Got the audio of this as a gift and have been listening to it in my car. The lecturer is very listen-able. The course is well-organized. I'm really enjoying getting a good perspective on the history of the English novel. I'm only halfway through, but expect it to be just as good when I get into the second part.
Date published: 2018-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative I appreciate the depth of knowledge of Prof. Timothy Spurgeon not only regarding English authors but other writers who were contemporaneous. The lectures in this series are well structured and interesting. I've learned a lot.
Date published: 2018-09-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Discussion I purchased this course, among others, and have just recently finished it. I majored in English in college, and it was a treat to "go back to class" about a topic I love - English and British Literature. One of the many things I really enjoyed about this course was hearing about an array of authors, many of whom I never had the opportunity to study in college. I found the summaries of the works Dr. Spurgin discussed detailed enough to follow his discussions, but not so detailed as to dissuade me from reading the novels for myself later. I found Dr. Spurgin's ideas and themes interesting and compelling. He was very good about tying in each lecture's discussion with the overall theme of the subject of the English Novel. My only real dislike of the course was how Dr. Spurgin obviously read most of the lectures off of prompts. This was especially apparent in the first few lectures, as his delivery was much more stiff and formal. He seemed to get more comfortable as the course went on. However, Dr. Spurgin's passion for the topic, especially as the course progressed, often broke through as he would add comments that seemed more like his in-the-moment thoughts. He would light up, his tone would change, and I could tell how much he enjoyed the topic and sharing it with others. All this being said, I would watch this course again (I ordered the DVDs), and I would watch other courses featuring Dr. Spurgin. His "stage presence" and delivery are easily trumped by his thorough knowledge and caring of such an enjoyable subject.
Date published: 2018-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So good that I wanted more Timothy Spurgis is an engaging and insightful guide through the history of “The English Novel.” I found the lectures on Conrad, James, Thackeray, Dickens, the Brontes, and Virginia Woolf especially stimulating. I think there is too much a “chick-lit” focus, and am interested in the more masculinist geneaology of Defoe, Swift (admittedly Irish, but there are two lectures on Joyce), Stevenson, Kipling — and perhaps Greene, Isherwood, Maugham, and Waugh — in which I would include Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy (which decisively contradicts Virginia Woolf's assertion that women do not write books about male characters (though Woolf herself wrote male characters I find convincing in "Mrs. Dalloway" and "To the Lighthouse"). Spurgis raised the question of how English Salman Rushdie (born in Bombay, now living in NYC more than in London) is. James Joyce produced one (by Spurgis's) count or two (by my count) major modernist novels, but Joyce was Irish, not English and lived on the continent after leaving Ireland. Moreover, "Dubliners" is not a novel. The longest story (novella) in it, "The Dead," he does not discuss. Spurgis quotes at length rather than supplying plot summaries, so delves into style, always insightfully IMO. I would like more, even at the cost of breaking from the tidy focus on courtship and domesticity on which he focuses
Date published: 2018-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent title for the material in the Course. This helps to really understand the English novel background.
Date published: 2018-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Informative Listening to it for the 5th time and each time I learn something new. As a writer, it's a way of teaching myself in layers.
Date published: 2018-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good content, very interesting This course did an excellent job presenting the topics of discussion. I liked the background on the authors, most of which I had not known even though I have taken several literature classes. The in depth backgrounds helped me as a reader understand why certain authors chose certain subjects, characters, themes, etc. which gives a better understanding when reading the text which, I feel, can contribute to the enjoyment of it. While I cannot guarantee my enjoyment of the texts I have not read, this course has at least given me a better understanding of the books which means I will at least be able to appreciate them. I have almost always thought (at least since I learned the difference) that one should at least appreciate what a book may be trying to convey even if it isn't enjoyable. Also, the teacher clearly loves what he is discussing which made the subject all the more interesting. It also makes you want to read, if you haven't already, to titles he discusses. Actually, I had tried to read "A Portrait of a Lady" and didn't finish it, but his discussion of it has made me reconsider since, perhaps, I just hadn't gotten to the interesting parts when I had stopped reading. I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in the study of novels. The course has a good balance and a teacher who is interested in this subject which is all that really matters in such situations. Though, I do warn that his voice is a bit slow and can be mistaken for monotone at times. But if you get past that you will see the passion that is there.
Date published: 2017-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Literature & Society This excellent course is not strictly a close-up literary analysis series of lecture, although there is some of that. Rather, the lecturer -- with an excellent conversationalist voice, subdued but not at all boring -- places the various novels within their overall socio-political-economic milieu as well as each author's personal life experience. Overarching this is his meta-analysis of how the novel has evolved over time -- from author to author, and era to era. Thus, we get both a micro-picture of the respective novels and a macro-study of the novel as genre. Very well done!
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Let Lit Live There are 3 types of Lit Professors in my experience. The Fan who speaks in broad glowing terms, drops authors names and summarizes half a dozen plots every lecture with no depth whatsoever. The Failed Author who hates all other authors and points out every negative thing he can think of about the authors and books under discussion. And finally the Enthusiastic Instructor who loves books and authors and can give solid insights into the lives of the authors, the importance of their work and mostly makes you want to run right out and read the novel he's talking about in that lecture. You can probably guess which type of Professor teaches this course. He he combines both erudition and excitement and makes you feel like you can tackle these classic novels more knowledgeably than you could have before the lectures. One warning is that there are spoilers so if you really want to not know what happens to Mr. Darcy in advance, read 'Pride & Prejudice' first and then watch the lecture. For that matter I suppose it spoils the movie 'Becoming Jane' as well. This would probably be a solid course for a home school high school student interested in literature. It is PG rated as some of those English novelists had their characters indulge in some shenanigans and for that matter indulged themselves. In summery, Great Course, Great Lecturer, Great Novels. Makes me glad I have an e-reader because he covers a metric ton of paper novels.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great CD lectures as it progresses through the ages of English fiction development. Easy to follow along in the booklet.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating survey of the English novel: its development of technique, interest in human psychology, and relation to respective extant social milieu. I have read most of the works discussed, and shall certainly read the others. Thirty minutes is too short for these lectures.
Date published: 2017-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good treatment of individual novels Overall good and worthwhile. I find the lecturer's definition of a "novel" overly narrow and somewhat arbitrary, so found the opening lectures not entirely convincing. But once he gets into presenting and analyzing the chosen works themselves, it gets better and I think he is very good.
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good review I learned a lot about the growth of English literature through the centuries. I wish he spent more time on Coleridge Byron Keats and Shelley
Date published: 2017-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Right Ho, Spurgin Professor Spurgin is always interesting in his lectures on the English Novel. In tracing its development, he adroitly addresses biography and historical context, novelistic techniques and themes, and the altering presentation of the individual and society from Richardson to Woolf. He is very articulate, engaging, and comfortable with his audience. Even if you are a seasoned scholar of the English novel, this course will expand your knowledge.
Date published: 2016-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fun course A fun course giving greater background and understanding to your favorite classic novels. The lectures are primarily focused on single-author presentations. Some author biography is given. Focus is on the novel as art: why is this writer "important"? Select novels are used to represent the author's craft, such as Emma for Austen's psychological insights, and P&P for Austen's sociological commentary. After the opening lectures introducing the overriding theories, I have been jumping around watching the lectures out of order, as different authors or novels strike my fancy. Series still works great - nothing seems lost by jumping around. I bought the DVD set on sale. It will work absolutely fine with audio-only. There is no specific added value to DVD other than personal preference.
Date published: 2016-09-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Mixed Review I have mixed emotions about this review. On the one hand, the professor clearly knew his topic, was cogent and had great delivery skills. All of the lectures were fascinating and enlightening. On the other hand, there were a few aspects of the course that I did not enjoy as much. Most notably, the professor felt it necessary to discuss the bedroom habits of many of the authors even when the relevance to the topic was somewhat dubious. I originally purchased this course for my mother-in-law who has enjoyed other Great Courses that I have bought for her in the past. After listening to the content of this course myself, I'm a bit embarrassed and would have made another selection if I had realized how often the professor would discuss this topic. There is much to recommend this course, including a skilled professor and interesting subject matter, but I wish the professor had spent a little less time on the salacious aspects of the personal lives of the authors.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting & Insightful AUDIO DOWNLOAD I confess to being a novel reader, especially nineteenth century English ones. Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, and the early Henry James are my favorites. That being said, I never had an understanding of the English novel’s development: I just know what I like and dive in. This course provides a very welcome perspective and appreciation that will no doubt better inform my future reading. Professor Spurgin’s course is a fine complement to several other TC courses by Arnold Weinstein and John Sutherland. Though the latter deal with some of the same novels as this TC course, Professor Spurgin is much more focused and detailed on how each of the works advanced the development of the English novel. Selection of the novels is based on the innovations introduced and how that impacted later authors. I particularly appreciate Professor Spurgin’s richly detailed background and context, and his expert guidance on the evolving focus of the novels, notably the social and psychological. The considerable information about the novels and the authors is also appreciated. As with Professor Spurgin’s stellar TC ‘The Art of Reading’ course, this course does much to enhance one’s reading. I learned a good deal more about two of my favorites, Austen and James, that I know will add to my enjoyment as I revisit their novels. Sadly, Trollope is only mentioned twice, most significantly as George Eliot’s only serious rival with the reading public. This is understandable, as Trollope was not an innovator as was Eliot (“…bring[ing] an unprecedented intellectual and moral seriousness to the English novel”, Course Guidebook. Page 64). As far as the matter of innovation goes, I will likely stick with my late nineteenth century cut-off, but Professor Spurgin has given me a good deal to think about and a better appreciation of those later, modernist, authors (specifically Lawrence, Joyce, and Woolf), who “reflect the social fragmentation and moral confusion of the period surrounding the First World War… reject[ing] conventional means and methods of storytelling, experimenting with open endings… seem[ing] to place great value on the inner life of thought and feeling, devising new ways of representing human consciousness” (Page 124). . While this course focuses on the period from the early eighteenth century through the modernists of the 1920s, Professor Spurgin does not stint in placing the English novel in a wider context, including making an excellent case for its value in relation to others kinds of writing, as well as comparison and contrast with novels in other traditions (notably Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’ compared with Balzac’s ‘Lost Illusions’). In the exceptionally good final lecture, Professor Spurgin brings the story up-to-date in presenting more recent English novelists such as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Anthony Powell (another three favorites of mine, but which he notes are “…often said to work in the shadows of the great Modernists. A sense of having been born too late, of missing out on the great age of literary innovation, is sometimes thought to be one of the defining traits of this generation”, Page 175), Iris Murdock, urban novelist Zadie Smith (b. 1975), and Salman Rushdie. The one hundred and fifty-four page Course Guidebook is a fine complement to this course, as it includes good lecture summaries, a timeline, glossary, detailed biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography.
Date published: 2016-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Lectures on Classic British Novels Dr. Spurgin is just about as clear, cogent and concise a lecturer as you will ever encounter. What a treat listening to him carefully and intelligently describe and discuss novels you may have always heard of and wanted to read, but just never had the time to wade through. Step-by-step, with carefully chosen excerpts, he draws you into the development of the novel as a captivating tale unto itself and demonstrates how famous novelists learned to express for us the innter workings of our souls and minds. In a way this tale is the story of civilization as it comes to grips with industrialization, materialism, social classes and systems, and the importance of trying to maintain and raise consciousness and the sanctity and purity of the human soul. Novels reflect their times and how people thought, felt and interacted back then and this course transports you back into history and allows you to immerse yourself in the lives of people of periods gone by, and in so doing, you are struck by how humans are still stuck today on similar societal issues, which I found a very sobering revelation. A loud shout out to Dr. Spurgin for a superb course on the novel!
Date published: 2015-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Interesting! I really enjoyed this course on the English Novel. Prof. Spurgin does a good job of explaining what makes an English novel "English." He then goes on to hit the highlights of British novel writing from its beginning up to modern times. I enjoyed the first half of the course much more than the latter, but that's because of my preference for the works discussed in the first half. The professor's presentation of all the material was quite informative.
Date published: 2015-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course, Inspiring Instructor Professor Spurgin is one of the best of the best. He is able to communicate the content and his interesting insights with clarity and good humor. The origins, characteristics, and evolution of the English novel as exemplified in works by some of the greatest writers in the English language is fertile ground for a literature course, and Professor Spurgin makes the most of it. Excellent in every respect.
Date published: 2015-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I really enjoyed the course and the way it was presented. If I had to offer one criticism, I would have liked to have heard a lecture on the more popular or pulp fiction that was popular particularly in Victorian England. The penny dreadful or the romance or even pornography. Robert Darton famously wrote about the marginal literature in pre-Revolution France and I would have liked to have heard at least one talk on the pop literature of this period in England that never reached academic acclaim but was read by the masses, so to speak. I think Dickens is the high culture realization of this kind of pop literature and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is pure pulp that became to the 19th century (and still today) what Ian Fleming's James Bond books are in the mid-20th century. What were the bestsellers that we as readers have never heard about? Anyway, at least one lecture on popular books and something of the different genres and the sociology of the readership. A good example might be H.G. Wells, who represents the highest achievement of what we might call science fiction. But when did sci-fi (or maybe dystopian fiction) begin as a pulp genre? Sherlock Holmes, I imagine, must have come as well out of the genre of pop writings on crime. Bram Stoker's Dracula also comes to mind although the lectures do explore the beginnings of the Gothic novel, I'd like to know more.
Date published: 2014-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "I Didn't Want it to End" Professor Spurgin is brilliant. Love his voice. Great!
Date published: 2014-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The English Novel Professor Spurgin is superb. He made me want to read or reread every classic he talks about
Date published: 2014-08-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid job No question this is very good. Spurgin does excellent job; and clearly is a master of the material. Still I have to say I prefer his other course on reading. That course has given me tools that I still use to this day to enhance my reading. This course is aimed at those with strong interest in the material. Others may find it a bit slow in places.
Date published: 2013-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Satisfying intro to the novel `These lectures offer many delightful insights into the historical development of the English novel as well as into the particular genius of several of the most celebrated novelists of that tradition. Professor Spurgin organizes this course effectively and brings out quite nicely how the works of earlier authors influenced those of their literary successors, establishing some of the basic expectations of the genre while leaving room for change and innovation. His early lectures that clarify just what was "new" about the novel—what distinguished it from earlier forms such as the history and the romance—were particularly helpful. Spurgin communicates a lot of enthusiasm for the novels he profiles, and I have added many of them to my "to read" list as a result (including Eliot's Middlemarch, which I have almost finished). I would make four entries on the "cons" side of the ledger. (1) I thought the conclusion of the course with the three great Modernists (Joyce, Woolf, and Lawrence) seemed rather abrupt. The novel as literary form has certainly not exhausted itself; indeed, Spurgin acknowledges that contemporary practitioners have continued to innovate and excel with the form. It would have seemed more sensible to admit that the ending point was arbitrarily chosen so as to fit the 24-lecture format. Perhaps a further course on contemporary novels would be warranted. (2) The treatment of the invidual novels is inevitably a bit superficial; there's only so much one can fit in in thirty minutes or an hour. It often felt like the discussion barely scratched the surface. I'd like to see more courses that focus on just a single author among the giants of the tradition (e.g., Austen, Dickens, etc.). (3) Spoilers! If you haven't read one of the novels being discussed and would like to, consider skipping that lecture. Crucial plot developments may be revealed. (4) Finally, I would also note, in a rather nitpicky vein, that Spurgin has a tendency to say "to be sure" several times a lecture. He must have said it nearly a hundred times over the entirety of the course! On the whole, though, the pros much outweigh the cons. There is much to like about the course, and I don't hesitate to recommend it to any lover of literature or culture.
Date published: 2013-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A MUST-HAVE POWERHOUSE COURSE DVD REVIEW: This was my first encounter with the American scholar Timothy Spurgin: it's a powerhouse lecture series, delivered with great aplomb by this fine, calm, impressive professor who I believe could develop even further: into a major frontline lecturer, joining such as Greenberg and Brier. His introductory lecture is superb, sets the scene perfectly for the subseqent talks. From the very start, you know you're in for a marvellous, colourful journey into English prose! As an Englishman, I found his term "Englishness" very amusing and picturesque, but I cannot devise an improvement for the meaning required! Here's a course which is carefully and masterfully organised, to present the sweep of the English novel from Samuel Richardson's "Pamela" (which I was not familiar with) through to the modernists, all treated with exceptional insight. Dr Spurgin's analyses of novels are inspired, a pleasure to listen to, full of insight and delight. Importantly, he provides context for each author, describing their lives, and the concerns & events of their eras. Additionally, the lecturer makes helpful and useful comparisons between English novels and those from other countries such as France, the USA and Russia. The professor's explanations are lucid, easy to understand. In fact, this course really does not require much effort from the viewer/listener, thanks to the way Dr Spurgin has contructed it and the way he delivers it. After finishing the course, you will be a well-informed person on the subject, and inspired, I'm sure, to delve into the wide and deep treasures of the English novel. His two lectures dedicated to Jane Austen and the two devoted to Joyce are particularly brilliant. I'm happy to give a very high recommendation and 5 stars for this course on the English novel; it's hard to think how it might be improved. I'm very eager now to buy Dr Spurgin's course The Art of Reading by Great Courses.
Date published: 2013-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb overview This is a must- have course. My goal is listening to this course was to gain a good overral overview of the development of the english novel as well as insight into the lives of the novelists and some key themes pursued in their major works. This course delivered on all these fronts. I would recommend that the Professor's other course ("The Art of Reading") is a wonderful compliment to this course; i happended to have listened to that before I completed this one. Taken together they have given me a richer appreciation of English prose and also inspiration to pursue my own writing ambitions. Magnificent and I would immediately purchase further courses from this Professor- a 12 (or even 24) lecture course on the novels of Dickens would be irrestible!
Date published: 2012-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A most satsifying introductory course. A most enjoyable course. Professor Spurgen really makes you want to read the works he talks about.
Date published: 2012-06-13
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