Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy of Fiction Course: The Novel Part I

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Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes is frequently cited as the first significant European ‘novel’. Broadly the course will begin from the 17th c, however we will firstly discuss the features which constitute a ‘novel’ and the longer historical story of its emergence from other forms of narrative. We will then proceed historically studying the novels development, drawing mainly from the English tradition. We will also discuss issues such as: Para text and framing devices; The role of the narrative structure; The complexities of multiple narrators; Types of authorship; And of course Philosophical content. We will cover many novels, however I will be giving George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874) a central position and spending some time on this gigantean work.


This philosophy course will cover the following content:


Defining the Novel. We will consult various theorists, including Ian Watt’s very influential work: The Rise of the Novel (1957), which set the agenda for the next decades of debate, and Terry Eagleton’s very popular recent work: The English Novel.

Historical Background

The forms of literature from which the novel develops.

Political and Social context

Art is always embedded in the developments of its time. We will look at the features of 17th and 18th c culture which make the novel possible, including the rise of the Middle Class.


Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes to Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen (1759) by Laurence Sterne.

Vast amounts have been written about this ‘novel’, some claiming it to be ‘postmodern’ in its preoccupation with subverting linear narrative structure. Sterne may not have been interested in inventing a new kind of novel; the tradition is still very young, however he is interested in exploring the idea of the authorial project itself.

Romance: The Early 19th Century

The new romantic novelists exploited all the means at hand to thrill, arouse, or horrify their audience. But at the same time they were exploring the deeper hidden truths of human imagination, sexuality and desire.. Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840)

Far from the Maddening Crowd (1874) by Thomas Hardy.

This beautiful story is concerned with many of the anxieties of the age: Urbanization and the loss of connection to the natural world; Changing social structures (Bathsheba’s fight to maintain her independence as a women); Moral responsibility and chance; The nature of love and lust.

Realism. Middlemarch (1874) by George Eliot.

Considered by many literary theorists to be the most important novelist of the 19th Century, Eliot pioneered a new depth of psychological understanding through her complex characters and social critique. I will also argue that she developed a philosophical position, using and transforming the ideas of the time.

Middlemarch. Other themes to be considered: Idealism, self-interest, religion, education, hypocrisy, political reform, women and education.

The end of the century.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895), which is concerned with science, technological and biological developments.

Intended Audience

This philosophy course is suitable for personal interest learners: school, university students, adult and active retirees.

Delivery Style

This philosophy course will be delivered as an interactive lecture where questions and discussions are facilitated wherever possible.


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  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
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  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion