ENG 302: The Modernist Tragedy – Narrative Theory, Aristotelian Unities and The Novel of One Day

Dr. Siân White 3 credits

          Greek philosopher Aristotle set out the classical unities of place, time and action as the defining features of a properly-constructed tragedy – in the dramatic genre. What, then, do we make of the fact that two of the most canonical modernist works – James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) – are considered to be novels and yet appear to adhere to those same classical unities? Such a question invites exploration into the relationship between genre theory, narrative theory, and British and Irish literature of the modern period. Aristotle is often claimed as one of the first narrative theorists (despite the classical distinction between narrative and dramatic genres), and thus his Poetics will be the launching point for this course’s introductory study of core concepts and issues of narrative theory. In addition to introducing students to the primary elements of narrative fiction, the course will address contexts for narrative study, including gender, ethics, ideology, cognition and consciousness, and identity. We will explore the questions raised by these theoretical readings in the context of Joyce’s Ulysses and Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, then finishing with Dylan Thomas’ genre-bending 1954 radio play Under Milk Wood. Students will be expected to engage actively with difficult theoretical and literary texts in their reading and class discussion; to give an in-class presentation; and to write two papers, the second of which will be a longer research project that assumes a theoretical frame and develops a methodology for applying a narrative theory approach to literature. This course will satisfy the Genre and Theory or Period requirement for completion of the major.

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