Skip to main content

Essay Questions 2008/09

Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies

The European Novel 2008-2009 ­– Assessed Essay Topics.

The essay counts for 50% of the final mark. Two copies of the essay should be handed in to the English Department office not later than 3 pm on Monday 11 May 2009.

The following topics are suggestions. You may modify them, or devise one of your own, but should do so only in consultation with your seminar tutor.

While you may range as widely as you like in European prose fiction, not necessarily confining yourself to books studied on the course, you should make detailed reference to at least twoof the set texts unless the question states otherwise. Material used in the essay must not be substantially repeated in the examination.

Max Word Length: 5000.

1. "Man is not alone; he lives in society, in a social condition; and consequently, for us novelists, this social condition unceasingly modifies the phenomena. Indeed our great study is just there, in the reciprocal effect of society on the individual and the individual on society" (Zola, The Experimental Novel)

Elaborate on this statement in accordance with at least two novels you have read on the course.

2. Why is the relation between subjective and objective perspectives an important feature in some of the novels you have read?

3. Ian Watt claims that the novel emerged in the context of ‘a new climate of social and moral experience’ that novelists and their readers shared. Is this a view that is consistent with your reading of certain European novels?

4. Novels are often described as ‘testing grounds’ for new ideas, presenting alternative moral visions, innovative social practices, textual innovations, etc. Is this so with European novels? Or is it more appropriate to see them as confirming the conventional, orthodox social and/or moral and/or aesthetic standards of the day?

5. Is ambition a positive or negative feature in The European Novel?

6. Make a case for the primacy of the ‘global’ as the primary lens through which to read at least two European novels from the course. (You may, if you wish, replace ‘global’ with either‘local’ or‘national’ in this statement).

7. Write about the significance of any one of the following in the novels we have covered:

Suicide; secrets and revelations; birthright and/or inheritance; sex; marriage; money; fashion; drinking; gender; the supernatural; landscapes; class; religion; time; free indirect discourse; letters; the city.

8. Write an essay on the issue of duality and/or the device of doubling in some European novels?

9. Compare the ways in which adultery and betrayal are treated in two or three novels.

10. In the novel, for the first time in literature, boredom (or l’ennui) seems to take on a significant narrative significance. Discuss its role, and its implications, in any two novels.

11. Discuss the importance of endings in creating the meaning of European novels.

12. Could it be argued that the most apparently non-realist novels we have read on the course (such as Frankenstein, Ulysses, Orlando) can in fact be perceived as realistic in their interpretation?

(You may instead consider the inverse of this and take up the proposition that some Realist novels can be perceived as Romantic/Gothic/Modernist in their interpretation).

13. The course has covered fiction spanning two centuries and eight countries.


a)critically compare a European novel published prior to 1900 with one published after that date, commenting on their similarities as well as their differences.


b) write a comparative analysis of at least two novels from different countries, commenting on their similarities as well as their differences.


c) make a case for the inclusion of a novel not on the syllabus. Your novel must be European and from the period 1650-1950. You must critically compare it with at least one text we have studied on the course.

14. Why is reading (or perhaps more importantly, misreading) a feature of almost all of the texts we have studied?

15. It has been said that in order to understand the dynamics of the novel it is necessary ‘to follow the money’. In what ways and to what extent do you find this a useful notion?

16. ‘Politics in the novel is like a pistol-shot at the opera’ (Stendhal). Discuss the political dimension of any two novels in which you find its presence significant for an understanding of the text.