ENG 2261: Introduction to Fiction


To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative — the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.

—Umberto Eco

This course introduces students to the reading, interpretation, and enjoyment of fiction. The aim is to become a more experienced, imaginative, and critical reader of fiction, able to discuss the techniques and strategies employed in the various texts that we read throughout the semester. The books to be discussed cover a number of significant periods in literary history, including the Victorian novel, Modernism, twentieth-century writing and fiction after the millennium. Each book chosen uses narrative voice in a manner innovative for the time. The set writers employ a variety of perspectives to expose human fallibility, and to explain human conflict. This use of narrative perspective will be a general subject for discussion throughout the course.




Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights is one of the great Victorian novels, and it is especially fresh and innovative in its use of narrative perspective. The story of Wuthering Height and its occupants is not told straightforwardly, but in fragments and by narrators who are not necessarily reliable. While reading the novel, be aware of how Lockwood puts together the story of Heathcliff, Cathy and the other characters. Who is telling the story? To what extent can we trust their version of events? Where are the silences in the book and how do we the readers fill them in?


Secondary Reading

Althubaiti, Turki S. (2015) ‘Race Discourse in Wuthering Heights.European Scientific Journal 11.8: 201-225

Marsh, Nicholas (1999) Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. New York: St Martin’s Press.

Stuchiner, Joseph (2013) ‘The Servant Speaks: Joseph’s Version of Wuthering Heights.ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 26.3: 191-196.

Tytler, Graeme (2014) ‘The Power of the Spoken Word in Wuthering Heights.Bronte Studies 39.1: 58-70.

Williams, Meg Harris (1987) A Strange Way of Killing: The Poetic Structure of Wuthering Heights. Strathay: Clunie Press.


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

 Charles Dickens is one of the most accomplished and powerful writers to have ever worked in the novel genre. A Tale of Two Cities is a fascinating read that reflects on the French Revolution and the working of power, but also on English society. It is written in retrospect some years after the revolution took place, and Dickens feeds us the story in his typically episodic style. (Remember most of Dickens’ novels were published as serials in magazines hence the cliffhangers that tend to occur at the end of chapters.) Consider while you are reading how Dickens shifts between different characters points of view and the tapestry that he creates through doing so. Dickens loves to undermine flawed characters in a humorous manner, but he also uses an anti-hero to show what is beautiful, noble and great.



Secondary Reading

Ackroyd, Peter (2002) Dickens: Public Life and Private Passions. London: BBC.

Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert (2012) Becoming Dickens. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. (Ebook available).

Ferguson, Susan L. (2001) ‘Dickens’ Public Readings and the Victorian Author.’ Studies in English Literature 41.4: 729-749.

Garrett, Peter K. (1977) ‘Double Plots and Dialogical Form in Victorian Fiction.’ Nineteenth Century Fiction 32.1: 1-17.

McKnight, Natalie (1993) Idiots, Madmen and Other Prisoners in Dickens. New York: St Martin’s Press.

Swisher, Clarice (ed.) (1998) Readings on Charles Dickens. San Diego CA: Greenhaven.

Tambling, Jeremy (1995) Dickesn, Violence and the Modern State: Dreams of the Scaffold. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Toker, Leona (2010) Towards the Ethics of Form in Fiction: Narratives of cultural Remission. Columbus OH: OSU. [See chapter on Dickens].




The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is one of the great American novels and marks a shift in supremacy when it comes to world writing. Rather than writing from Gatsby’s point of view, however, Nick is the prime narrative voice. Give particular thought when you are reading to how Fitzgerald constructs the mystery of Gatsby. Where does Nick glean his information and how reliable are his sources? How do we feel about Gatsby at the end? What is the reality of Gatsby?



Secondary Reading

Bruccoli, Matthew (1985) New Essays on the Great Gatsby. New york: Cambridge University Press.

Lockridge, Ernest (1968) Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Great Gatsby. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall.

Meehan, Adam (2014) ‘Repetition, Race, and Desire in The Great Gatsby.Journal of Modern Literature 37.2: 76-91.

Polan, Dana (2013) ‘The “Great American Novel” as Pop-up Book: Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby.’ Adaptation 6.3: 397-399.

Salmose, Niklas (2014) ‘Reading Nostalgia: Textual Memory in The Great Gatsby,The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 12.1: 67-87.



Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin 

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, Giovanni’s Room focuses on an American man’s feelings and frustrations with his relationships with other men in his life, particularly an Italian bartender named Giovanni whom he meets at a Parisian gay bar. Baldwin creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart. While reading you might like to think about how self-aware (or not) the narrator is. How does he deal with his own shame? How honest is he with himself? 

Secondary Reading

Campbell, James (1995) Exiled in Paris. New York: Scribner.

Grandt, Jurgen E, (2011) ‘Into a Darker Past: James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and the Anxiety of Authenticity,’ CLA Journal 54.3: 268.

Polchin, James (2014) ‘The Baldwin of Giovanni’s Room,Gay and Lesbian Review 21.6: 31.

Rohy, Valerie (1996) ‘Displacing Desire: Passing, nostalgia and Giovanni’s Room’ in Passing and the Fictions of Identity, ed. Elaine K. Ginsberg. Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Summer, Claude J. (1990) Gay Fictions. New York: Continuum.





‘The Proper Respect’ and ‘The Judge’s Wife’ by Isabel Allende


These stories by Allende tell postcolonial narratives that address issues surrounding race, class and gender. While reading them, consider the conflicting perspectives of men and women and how they drive the events of the narrative to their disturbing conclusion.



Secondary Reading

Allende, Isabel (1986) House of Spirits, trans. Magda Bogin. London: Black Swan.

— (2003) My Invented Country: A Memoir, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. London; Harper Perennial.

Brigley Thompson, Zoe and Sorcha Gunne (2013) ‘Breaking the Bonds of Domination: Embodied Heroines, Rape Culture and Possibilities of Resistance in Short Stories by Isabel Allende and Rosario Castellanos,’ Contemporary Women’s Writing 7.3: 272-290.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Isabel Allende, Philadelphia: Chelsea (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views Series), 2003.

Cox, Karen Castellucci. Isabel Allende: A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2003.

Hart, Patricia. Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende. London: Associated UP; Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1987.

Lindsay, Claire. Locating Latin American Women Writers: Cristina Peri Rossi, Rosario Ferré, Albalucía Angel and Isabel Allende. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.

Weldt-Basson, Helene Carol. Subversive Silence: Nonverbal Expression and Implicit Narrative Strategies in the Works of Latin American Women Writers. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2009.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

 Drawing on American thrillers and detective novels, Flynn employs a number of recognizable intrigue plots and a shifting narrative viewpoint to flummox the reader. Commenting on middle class America, Flynn’s critique of the institution of marriage offers a disquieting portrait of gender relations.


Secondary Reading

Abbott, Megan (2002) The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Boozer, Jack (1999) ‘The Lethal Femme Fatale in the noir Tradition.’ Journal of Film and Video 51.3/4: 20-35.

Biesen, S.C. (2005) Blackout: World War Two and the Origins of Film Noir. Baltimore MD: John Hopkins Press.

Fay J. and J. Nieland (2010) Film Noir: Hard Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalization. London and new York: Routledge.

Orr, S. (2010) Darkly Perfect World: Colonial Adventure, Postmodernism and Film Noir. Columbus OH: Ohio State University Press.

Thompson, Kristin and David Bordwell (2014) ‘Gone Grrrl’, Observations on Film Art. Access at HTTP: < http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2014/10/21/gone-grrrl/> (accessed August 1 2015).