Spring 2007
English 504.01/404.04 Contemporary British Fiction TR 2:00-3:15 p.m. TLC 047

Dr. Stephan Flores (sflores@uidaho.edu)                                                                                         

http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~sflores/                        885-6156; 885-6147

Office hours: TTH 10:00-11:00 a.m. & by appt.                       315 Commons/125 Brink Hall

Prerequisite for undergraduates: English 102 or equivalent, and Engl 175 or 210, or permission of instructor.

Course Schedule/Syllabus

We’ll explore contemporary British novels (1984-2005) that represent different strands of fiction and legacies of history, culture, and politics.  The works selected engage with social and class structures, racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender relations, and questions of national identity, and they present some variety in narrative tones, style, and structure.  Emphasis on class discussion; written work includes in-class discussion starter questions/comments, succinct journal entry on each novel, a critical response, an exploratory essay, and a term essay (that may incorporate, revise, draw upon prior written work) on a topic and text(s) of your choice.

With regrets over various alternative writers bumped off the syllabus (for example, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Salman Rushdie, Pat Barker, Julian Barnes, Sebastian Barry, Andrea Levy's Small Island, Ian McEwan's Atonement, Kate Atkinson, other novels by Coe, A. Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty . . .), here’s the selected primary reading, and reading order as follows:

Ishiguro, KazuoThe Remains of the Day (1989;Vintage, 1990; ISBN: 0679731725) Booker Prize for Fiction

Amis, MartinMoney: A Suicide Note (1984; Penguin, 2000; ISBN:0141182393) Ranked number two in The Observer’s recent poll of 150 writers and 'literary sages' for confidential nominations of 'the best novel (in English, excluding America) for the years 1980-2005.'

Coe, JonathanThe Winshaw Legacy; Or, What A Carve Up! (1994; Random House, 1996; ISBN: 0-679-75405-9) Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger 

Smith, ZadieWhite Teeth (2000; Vintage, 2001; ISBN: 0375703861) Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, Commonwealth Writers Prize

Smith, Zadie.  On Beauty (2005; Penguin, 2006; ISBN: 0143037749)  Orange Prize for Fiction; Ten Best Books of the Year, New York Times Book Review


1. Journal entry on each novel: each entry (350 words, titled) identifies something in our texts/topics for analysis/discussion that you find intriguing/important/useful, and starts to explore its significance; your response usually addresses an implied or explicit question that you determine, and should include a reasoned, interpretative claim on some aspect of the novel/issue in question. You may, for one or two of these entries, wish to do a bit of research on the novel or issue in question, and graduate students are particularly encouraged to do this, but incorporating or making reference to scholarship/critical commentary on the novel is not required for the journal entries. A particular journal entry make enable you to get a jump start to explore a topic for either the exploratory essay or the term essay.

2. The Critical Response assignment (750 words, titled) on one (or more) of the novels directs you to explore a significant issue or rhetorical strategy that you identify in relation to specific cultural, historical, or theoretical contexts and concerns. Your topic may be prompted in part by our discussions, by published scholarship/criticism, and of course by your reactions and understanding. You might think of the response as a scaled down, sharply focused critical essay, one that contains the kernel of a hypothesis and topic that might serve as the cornerstone or shaping idea for a longer essay. Your analysis can be quite "thesis-driven"—that is, you may find it effective to compose a thesis for your response that maps out for readers the challenging, engaging, important points that you want to develop and discuss—or you may prefer a more reflective, question and problem-posing approach. The critical response may also serve as a starting point for either the exploratory essay or the term essay.

3. Thesis-Seeking/Problem-Posing Exploratory Essay (1750 words for body of essay--6-7 pp. double-spaced; undergraduates to include at least one citation/reference to a fairly recent, substantial critical article or book; graduate students to include at least two citations/references to recent critical scholarship). The primary aims of this essay assignment is to engage with the novel and its critical interpretation/reception by identifying problems, developing claims and arguments, and enriching your literary understanding, interests, and commitments. This essay may also serve as a trial run/rough draft that you have the option of revising and developing much further to incorporate into the Term Essay.

4. Term Essay: 2200 words, body of essay (8 pp), excluding works cited page for undergraduates; 3200 words, body of essay (12 pp), excluding works cited page for graduate students--double-spaced, titled. This critical essay develops ideas prompted by our study and discussion of the novels and related scholarship, informed by your perspectives and interests regarding the texts we have considered this semester. I shall attend to the ways that you select, define, and engage questions and contradictions, evaluate the essay's explanatory and analytical value (including strengths of reasoning and evidence), and consider the clarity, imagination, and grace that you demonstrate in presenting your topic, (hypo)thesis, and argument, and the extent to which your work engages with and contributes to the larger "conversation" of scholarship on the topic and novels under analysis. I do not always expect essays to conclude by "solving" such problems or by "proving" your thesis; I hope that you address interesting topics in thoughtful and useful ways. You may draw upon and revise material from the exploratory essay as part of this Term Essay, but note that this Term Essay must be substantially longer and revise or extend the ideas and analysis from previous work (and/or be different from prior work--that is, you may choose to work up a new topic/essay rather than refer back to previous work). Please feel invited to confer with me during the writing process.

5. Participation in discussions, including submitting brief in-class Discussion Starter Question/Comment at the beginning of each class, typed or legible handwritten (total of 23 over the course of the semester--not required on days that journal entries are due)--these questions and comments tend to direct our attention to specific passages and issues as you share your observations and ongoing responses. Please take advantage of opportunities to discuss your reactions, share your insights and understanding, and to listen and reply to others' ideas. Occasional group work will help to facilitate class discussion. I hope such discussion, including the incorporation of highlighted discussion starters and journal entries into class discussion, will enable you to move the class in directions that you find most helpful, give you opportunities to develop critical skills through collaboration, and provide for a productive, interesting exchange of perspectives and participation among the class. If you miss class, you can either submit the question/comment before class by email, or 'make-up' the requirement later by submitting a question/comment on one of the journal entry due dates (the making up missed question/comment option available for up to three absences).

6. Due dates: Each of the graded writing assignments is due at the beginning of class on the due datework turned in later will be marked late and graded accordingly. All required graded written work is downgraded one notch (for example, B+ to B, converted to points for each assignment) for each weekday late (not just days classes meet but counting just one day for a weekend). Work submitted more than a week late will not be accepted. I will grant short extensions for medical and family emergenciesbut talk with me as soon as possible to request an extension. ALWAYS KEEP EXTRA COPIES OF YOUR WORK.

7. Attendance is required. If you have no absences by the semester's end (excused or not), you will receive five bonus points; with only one absence you will receive three bonus points. Two absences will not affect your semester grade, but a third absence will lower your semester total by six points, with a six point reduction for each additional absence (for example: four absences=minus 12 points, five absences = minus 18 points); six or more absences will cause you to fail the class, regardless of your semester point total. Almost all absences will be countedexcused or notif something extraordinary occurs, talk to me.

8. Grades: Five Journal Entries (14 points each); Critical Response (35 pts); Thesis-Seeking/Problem-Posing Exploratory Essays (110 pts.); Term Essay (135 pts). These required assignments add up to a maximum of 350 points. Thus 315-350 points equals an A, 280-314 equals a B, 245-279 equals a C, 210-244 equals a D, and anything below 210 merits an F. I shall also reserve bonus points based on my perceptions of the strength of your participation and efforts over the semester (up to a maximum of 8 pts.); in addition, incomplete or missing weekly in class discussion starter questions and comments will be counted against your semester grade, with the loss of one point for each late or missing entry—evaluated/assessed on a weekly basis, to a maximum loss of 23 points.

9. Office hours. I encourage you to confer with meespecially before assignments are dueto talk about your interests, intentions, and writing strategies. We'll meet at my office in the University Honors Program, 315 Commons. If you cannot make my regular hours, let's arrange another time. I also welcome communicating with you by E-mail via UI Vandalmail addresses (sflores@uidaho.edu).

Additional resources to be placed on library reserve that include:

Bradford, Richard. The Novel Now: Contemporary British Fiction. (Blackwell, 2007)--on reserve--includes brief commentary on Amis, Coe, Smith . . . .

A companion to the British and Irish novel 1945-2000 (2005). Ed. Brian W. Shaffer

British Fiction Today, eds. Rod Mengham and Philip Tew (Continuum, Jan. 2007)--on reserve--includes Pamela Thurschwell's chapter 3 on "Genre, Repetition and History in Jonathan Coe" and also Fiona Tolan's (chapter 11) article on "Identifying the Precious in Zadie Smith's On Beauty."

Contemporary British fiction (2003) edited by Richard Lane, Rod Mengham, and Philip Tew--on reserve

Head, Dominic. The Cambridge introduction to modern British fiction, 1950-2000 (2002)--on reserve

A Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction. Ed. James English (Blackwell, 2005) pbk ISBN: 9781405120012
ISBN10: 1405120010

Keulks, Gavin, ed. Martin Amis: Postmodernism and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). This collection includes Tamas Benyei's essay "The Passion of John Self: Allegory, Economy, and Expenditure in Martin Amis's Money," Emma Parker's "Money Makes the Man: Gender and Sexuality in Martin Amis's Money," and Philip Tew's "Martin Amis and Late Twentieth-Century Working_Class Masculinity: Money and London Fields." --on reserve

Keulks, Gavin. Father and Son: Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, and the British Novel Since 1950 (2003)

Lee, Alison. Realism and power : postmodern British fiction (1990)

Parkes, Adam. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (Continuum, 2001)--on reserve

Squires, Claire. Zadie Smith's White Teeth (Continuum, 2002) --on reserve

Other Britain, other British : contemporary multicultural fiction (1995) edited by A. Robert Lee

British culture of the postwar : an introduction to literature and society, 1945-1999 / edited by Alistair
                      Davies and Alan Sinfield (2000) --on reserve

Shaffer, Brian W. Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro (1998)--on reserv

Diedrick, James. Understanding Martin Amis (1995)--on reserve

Holmes, Frederick M. The historical imagination : postmodernism and the treatment of the past in contemporary British fiction (1997)

Wood, Michael.  “The contemporary novel.” The Columbia history of the British novel (1999)   Ed. John Richetti

Tew, Philip. Contemporary British Novel (Continuum, May 2007)

Brook, Stephen. Class: Knowing Your Place in Modern Britain (Gollancz, 1997)

Other resources:

The Martin Amis Web (see esp. links to several essays that include attention to the novel Money)

Current course on evolution and narrative, with segment on Smith's On Beauty

BBC profile of United Kingdom

BBC: British History (including brief essay by Jeremy Black on "Britain from 1945 onwards")

BBC: The Troubles (on Northern Ireland)