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The English Novel

Novels 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.

The English Novel is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 86.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative and intereting course This is a great course. It's full of interesting information, well delivered, easy to understand and inspired me to read many of the novels covered. A great mix of literary analysis and historical context too
Date published: 2023-10-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Respectful and Literate Approach I was pleased that Professor Spurgin approaches his audience at a level on which I suspect most would want to meet him--i.e., not too simple and not too much "graduate seminar." Still, I would expect that those who complete this course will be drawn to read these works for themselves, as no lecturer should leave you not wanting to learn more. In this respect, Professor Spurgin hits the mark. His content is well constructed and his scholarship is genuine. I did find his presentation more than a little turgid and unwavering, and one is plainly aware of the dreaded teleprompter. Still, what I did appreciate was his weaving plot (single and multiple), character and, not least importantly, historical context into a coherent whole. While his treatment of Joyce's Ulysses did not tempt me more than any other scholar in the past half century to read this work in its entirety, Professor Spurgin gave it his best shot in the two lectures he gives us on Joyce, and for this I say "good on ya." I experienced this course on DVD and, while the portraits and photographs were of interest, I believe it would have lost little in audio.
Date published: 2023-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course As a lay person, I absolutely enjoyed listening to the development of the English Novel and Professor Spurgin is definitely one of my favorite professors. Each lecture was a look into the early developmental history of the novel and into the lives of the historical authors. My only disappointment is that it doesn't come with Video or on DVD. However, it is one I'll be re-listening to multiple times.
Date published: 2022-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I enjoyed this course and learned a great deal. The instructor was engaging and very knowledgeable.
Date published: 2022-06-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not exactly degree level The lectures are entertaining enough but nothing I didn't learn in English Lit at first year of grammar school. And in fact some of his asides show how dumb he thinks his students are. The streaming on this platform is APPALLING - each 30-min lecture drops out at least three timed and has to be reloaded. Apparently this is a 'glitch' they're aware of, don't know when they'll fix and don't bother to inform customers of.
Date published: 2022-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The English Novel I am about to read Lecture 12. Professor Spurgin made the first 11 lectures so interesting and challenging for me. Several times I needed a dictionary to comprehend the full meaning of some of the words he used. I was never bored, laughed a lot, and looked forward to his next lecture eagerly. More fun than English 101 in university 50 years ago!
Date published: 2022-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Professor Spurgin makes it very interesting . He really brings the poets to life
Date published: 2022-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful overview I have to admit the primary reason I first purchased this course several years ago is that Dr. Spurgin was going to talk about my favorite author, Jane Austen. What I got was much more, a whole lot more. Timothy Spurgin takes his students through a history of the English Novel from 1740 to the 1920s. And what a ride! What began with Samuel Richardson and Henry fielding ends in James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, very different authors indeed, but English/British all. (Yes, Joyce is Irish, but his English connections cannot be overlooked) The professor introduced me to so many authors I had either barely known about (Emily Bronte, Henry James) or not at all (George Eliot aka Marian Evans). Dr. Spurgin's two lectures on George Eliot are two of his best, in my opinion. He might as well have been a spokesman for "Middlemarch" as I went out and purchased that novel (as well as "Evelina" by Frances Burney) DIRECTLY as a result of listening to his lectures. And then there are his two lectures on Jane Austen. I will just say -- he gets her. I love his comment on disliking "Emma" the first time he read it, as frankly, I was meh on Pride and Prejudice the first time I read that novel, which goes to show that first impressions are not always the ones to follow, just like with Lizzy Bennet. (It is now my favorite novel of all time, and it's not even close) It has been a number of years now since I first purchased this course, and I feel even more so now that this course is a great introduction to the English novel and a wonderful jumping off point to go deeper. Well done, Dr. Spurgin!!!
Date published: 2022-01-31
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Professor Spurgin heightens our awareness of the deep roles novelists such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf play in our lives: honing our intellect, quenching our emotional thirsts, and shaping our sense of ourselves and of the world we live in.


Timothy Spurgin

Working on these courses was exciting and fun. Even more rewarding, has been the chance to hear from listeners, especially those that say the lectures have gotten them back into reading or convinced them to try a new author.


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 English novel, among other topics. He has also served two terms as director of Lawrence University's freshman program-recognized as one of the best in the nation. Professor Spurgin has received two coveted teaching awards from Lawrence University-the Outstanding Young Teacher Award and the Freshman Studies Teaching Prize-and he is a three-time recipient of the Babcock Award, given by university students to the individual who, through involvement and interaction with students, has made a positive impact on the campus community. Professor Spurgin's scholarly work has appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dickens Studies Annual, and Dickens Quarterly.

Definitions and Distinctions

01: 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.

33 min
The “Englishness” of the English Novel

02: 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.

30 min
Historical Context of Early English Fiction

03: 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.

29 min
The Rise of the Novel—Richardson and Fielding

04: 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.

31 min
After 1750—Sterne, Burney, and Radcliffe

05: 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.

30 min
Scott and the Historical Novel

06: 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.

29 min
Austen and the Comedic Tradition

07: 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.

30 min
Austen and the History of Consciousness

08: 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.

31 min
Dickens—Early Works

09: 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.

31 min
Novelists of the 1840s—Thackeray

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.

32 min
Novelists of the 1840s—The Brontës

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.

31 min
Dickens—Later Works

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.

33 min
After 1870—Review and Preview

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.

31 min
Eliot and the Multiplot Novel

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.

30 min
Eliot and the Unfolding of Character

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."

29 min
Hardy and the Natural World

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.

33 min
James and the Art of Fiction

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.

31 min
Conrad and the “Scramble for Africa”

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.

31 min
Ford and Forster—Transition to Modernism

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."

32 min
Lawrence and the “Bright Book of Life”

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.

33 min
Joyce—Dublin and Dubliners

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."

30 min
Joyce—Realism and Anti-Realism

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.

31 min
Woolf and the Poetic Novel

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.

31 min
The Impact of the Novel

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.

33 min