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Essay Questions 2008

The European Novel 2007-2008 — 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 12 May 2008.


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 two of the set texts unless the question states otherwise. Material used in the essay must not be substantially repeated in the examination.



1. ‘The experimental novel alone can bring the novel out of the atmosphere of lies and errors in which it is plunged.’(Zola) Make a case for at least two novels you have read on the course to be considered as ‘experimental’.


2. A central motivating element in European novels is the collapse of various kinds of order: political, psychological, conjugal, social, economic, even narrative order itself. Discuss, with reference to at least two course texts.


3. ‘In European novels, what happens depends a lot on where it happens.’(Franco Moretti) Argue for or against this statement, with reference to at least two novels from the course.


4. Critically compare a European novel published prior to 1800 with one published after that date. Refer to formal as well as historical differences in your answer.


5. Could it be argued that there is nothing essentially European about the novels you have studied? That their events are best understood in a local and/or national and/or global framework? Refer to at least two novels in your answer.


6. Is the role of the reader the key factor in and of European novels?


7. Write about the part played by one of the following in any two or three novels, constructing an argument to demonstrate its importance: origins; inheritance; medical science; religion; letters; passion; history; the family; the natural world; man-made objects; endings.


8. Make a case for the inclusion in the course of a novel not on the current syllabus. It must be European and roughly within the time frame we have covered. You must refer in detail to at least one of the course texts in presenting your case.


9. ‘The historical novel of our time, therefore, must above all negate, radically and sharply, its immediate predecessor and eradicate the latter’s traditions from its own work.’ (Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel). Demonstrate this process of negation, and consider its importance, by analysing and comparing at least two novels from the course.


10. ‘A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images’ (Albert Camus) Offer a reading of at least two novels in the light of this short remark.


11. In what sense is the anxiety of union the principal force in so many European novels? Answer with reference to at least two novels. You are free to interpret ‘union’ as your argument sees fit.


12. ‘Novelists are perhaps the last people in the world to be entrusted with opinions. The nature of a novel is that it has no opinions, only the dialectic of contrary views.’ (Anthony Burgess) Does this opinion square with yours on the novels you have read? Discuss with reference to at least two.


13. ‘A novel that does not uncover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novel's only morality.’ (Milan Kundera) Discuss.


14. ‘All novels are self-aware, some more explicitly than others, but all novels nonetheless.’ Do you agree?