2007 HS Autobiography and Fiction in the Eighteenth Century

From Angl-Am
Jump to: navigation, search


This seminar will look at a spectrum of writings in the ‘autobiographical mode’ from the early to the late eighteenth century. We will read four texts which have in common that they presuppose a public interest in the account which the (real or fictitious) writer gives of his or her own life, but which otherwise differ vastly from each other. We will look at the stories which these texts they tell about their autobiographical subjects, at the type of public interest they anticipate, at the genre characteristics they use or play with, and at the truth claims and signs of fictionality they display.

The four texts are: [Delarivier Manley,] The Adventures of Rivella (1714), [Daniel Defoe,] The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722), [Laurence Sterne,] The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759—67), Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). All primary texts are available in ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) in the original versions. For Equiano’s Interesting Narrative, please purchase the Norton Critical Edition. Tristram Shandy is available from Penguin Classics and Oxford World's Classics.

Requirements: 1. Regular attendance and active participation (you may miss up to two meetings, whatever the reasons). 2. An oral contribution in the form of an ‘invitation to discussion’ (you formulate questions or statements concerning a particular text and topic, and invite the seminar to discuss them). 3. A term paper (generally dealing with one or several of the issues raised in your oral contribution; length ca. 20 pages; deadline October 1, 2007). The course may also be used as part of the BA Abschlussmodul or as preparation for the written exam in the Staatsexamen or Magister course of studies.


Introduction. Technicalities. -- Private Lives and Public Interest: An Approach.


Public and Private: The Prefaces to Rivella

Reading Rivella, 2nd ed., "Translator's Preface", "Key", "Introduction"; Rivella, 4th ed., "To the Reader"


Truth and Fiction: The Preface to Moll Flanders


Rivella -- Rivella, Delarivier Manley, and the 'Roman a clef'


Ascension Day, public holiday


Moll Flanders

Discussion Questions:

1) Does Moll develop or change as a character over the course of the novel?

2) Discuss the narration in "Moll Flanders".

3) Taking into consideration that "Moll Flanders" is supposed to be a memorandum, is her story and character believable? What truth claims or signs of fictionality can be found to support your argument?

4) What genre characteristics are used and what does this mean for the novel?


Moll Flanders

(presentation: Lindsay Petrowski)

Discussion questions (to prepare for Thursday's meeting):

1) How are 17th and 18th century women presented in "Moll Flanders"? What do we learn about gender roles? What is Moll's/Defoe's message to women? To men? Do you think that "Moll Flanders" is an early feminist novel?

Before class on Thursday, please think about the above questions while reading the following passage. Can you think of other passages that may support your argument?

- The passage is about 2 pages in length, beginning with "Nothing is more certain than that the Ladies always gain of the Men by keeping their Ground, and letting their pretended Lovers see they can Resent being slighted, and that they are not afraid of saying No" and ending with "...but if she precipitates herself, it is ten Thousand to one but she is undone".

pp. 120-122 in the Penguin Classics version pp. 85-88 in the original, downloadable copy

2) What kind of gratification does "Moll Flanders" offer? Does the novel have any weaknesses?

3) What major topics are discussed in "Moll Flanders"? Referring to the following quote, which position do you agree with? Can you find any irony in "Moll Flanders"?

"We are left with two possibilities. Either "Moll Flanders" is a collection of scandal sheet anecdotes naively patched together with the platitudes that form the morality of an impoverished soul (Defoe’s), a "sincere" soul but a confused and degraded one; or "Moll Flanders" is a great novel, coherent in structure, unified and given its shape and significance by a complex system of ironies."

(From: Van Ghent, Dorothy, 1970: "On Moll Flanders", in: Robert C. Elliott (ed.): Twentieth Century Interpretations of "Moll Flanders". A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, p. 38.)


Tristram Shandy (esp. vols. 1-4)

-What are the main differences between traditional autobiographies and Tristram Shandy?

-What do we usually expect from an autobiography (no matter if it is fictional or not)?

-What do we get here? What is this writing all about?

-What purposes of autobiographical writing can you think of?

-What could be the purpose of the kind of autobiographical writing we find in Tristram Shandy? What does the text itself tell us about its purpose/ its status?

-Who is the narrator? Can we distinguish between experiencing self and narrating self?

...on digressions: I,22 (p.63/64, "What these [...] out of my book.")
...on his writing's temporal structure: II,29 (p.128/129, "I have dropp'd [...] interruption."); IV,10 (p.253, "Is it not a shame [...] or rules to follow him?")
...on writing as conversation: II,11 (p.96/97, "Writing, when properly managed [...] point of entering upon action.")

Additional material: tabulation of the story-line of Tristram Shandy from Pfister, Manfred: Laurence Sterne, Tavistock 2001 (will be provided as handout).


Tristram Shandy (esp. vols. 1-4)


Equiano, Interesting Narrative


Equiano, Interesting Narrative

(presentation: Melanie W.)

Slavery and Equiano

Thesis: Slaves were more free than black free-men. (page 90f. While we lay in this place a very cruel thing happened...)

--> Why is it so important for Equiano and other slaves to be free again, if that statement is true? (page 92ff.When I came there I found him and the captain...)

Thesis: This book is written to the purpose of raising public to abolish slavery.

Do you think it succeeds? – Or does Equiano even undermine this purpose? (page 36f. I did not remain long after my sister...) (page 48f. My master lodged at the house...) (page 73f. At the sight of this land...) (page 82ff. I have often seen slaves,...)


No class

to be re-scheduled "Grand Theory" and the Relationship of Autobiography and Fiction.


-Course Evaluation.

- Grand Theory.


-Feedback on Evaluation.

- Final Discussion. Private Lives and Public Interest: A Review. - Use session summaries to go over the four books again. Comparative qualities of the four texts: bring questions, further aspects from the texts and points of contrast and comparison. Do these books satisfy or play with the public's interest in private lives?

-- Presentation of Research Projects.

Reading Materials

Further Reading


Tips For Revision and Misc.

For those who have special interest in audiobooks and/or those who want to re-read Equiano, the following recording(s) might beinteresting: http://librivox.org/the-interesting-narrative-of-the-life-of-olaudah-equiano-by-olaudah-equiano/ (This has of course some other qualities and disadvantages in comparison with "plain text".)