I. Essay of Critical Analysis

Discuss an aspect of the novel, such as theme, characterization, structure, imagery, narrative techniques, or prose style. Possible topics for the novels follow:

  • General topics. The role or treatment of women, the significance of the title, freedom of choice, violence and/or the abuse of power, the role of the family or the relationship of parents and children, the portrayal of the orphan, the effectiveness of the epistolary novel (e.g., its presentation of action and characterization), snobbery and class consciousness, portrayal of society and/or an institution, such as the justice system in Humphrey Clinker.

  • Robinson Crusoe. The novel's universal appeal, Crusoe: representative of the aloneness of human beings, Crusoe: the representative of the powerlessness of human beings, Crusoe: indomitable and resourceful, Crusoe an Everyman?, Crusoe: the emotionally repressed man, Crusoe's conversion: true religion or self interest, Crusoe as economic man, Defoe's use of the journal structure, significance of the imagery of being consumed, Crusoe: self-isolating or castaway, Robinson Crusoe as spiritual autobiography.

  • Joseph Andrews. The role of religion, love, chastity and/or lust, true charity, the country versus the city, the role of the narrator, Adams: moral exemplar, Joseph Andrews: the hero.

  • Clarissa. The need for power and control, the effect of society's customs, rules, public opinion, and gossip on Clarissa, Lovelace's code of behavior, Lovelace's ability to love, Clarissa asexual?, Clarissa's virtue: founded in pride or in principle?, the power struggle between Clarissa and Lovelace or between Clarissa and her family, friendship, the development of Clarissa or Lovelace.

  • Humphrey Clinker. The physical journey as a moral, psychological, and/or spiritual journey, the role and/or treatment of servants, appearance versus reality, precursor of the modern world or society, luxury and corruption, friendship, Matthew Bramble's development, town versus country, charity versus selfishness, hospitality, snobbery, Smollett's use of the epistolary technique, marriage, relationship of body and mind.

  • Tristram Shandy. Time, cause and effect, modern quality or qualities, Tristram as character and narrator, an organized or disorganized novel, the brothers' relationship, effect of the digressions and other devices, Tristram Shandy: a novel about writing a novel?, the hobbyhorse as a characterizing device .

  • Evelina. A novel of anxiety?, portrayal of the upper classes and/or the middle class, Evelina's social initiation, the necessity of and the dangers of innocence.

  • A Sicilian Romance. Flight and learning, the heroine: transcending victimization, portrayal and function of servants, the consequences of unrestrained passion, the role of suffering, the functions of landscape, sensibility: a female trait?, the patriarchal relationhsip versus the martriarchal relationship, mystery and irrationality versus clarity and rationaltiy.

II. Essay of Personal Response

Choose a character, a statement, a theme, an occurrence, an image, or a scene in a novel and write a personal essay developing your response to it. Your response may include a point by point comparison and/or contrast, or you may refer to the novel briefly (e.g., use the reference to the novel as a jumping off point) and then devote the rest of your essay to your own response. For instance, Crusoe's conversion may move you to write about your conversion, whether toward God or away. Crusoe on the island may lead to a discussion of your feelings of isolation or the value of being alone.

Minimum length:1200 words

Sample personal response essays


III. Essay of Social or General Analysis

Choose a character, a statement, a theme, an occurrence, an image, or a scene in a novel which leads you into an analysis of some aspect of society today. For instance, the character of Crusoe could lead to a criticism of corporate culture; the relationship of Crusoe and Friday could be the basis of a discussion of race relations in the US. The food and water pollution in Humphrey Clinker exist today as environmental issues, and luxury, ostentation, and gentrification continue in our culture.

Minimum length:1200 words

Sample essays of social analysis


IV. Trial of an Author and/or a Character

You could try an author or a character for one or more crimes against modern readers, against humanity, against characters in the novel, against the law, or against morality. You may write a brief or motion for a trial. Or you may hold a trial with judge, prosecuting attorney; critics and secondary characters may be "expert witnesses" for both sides; the defendants may have a chance to reply. Keep the audience or jury in mind. You may ask questions and provide specific summaries or quotations as evidence. Or you may report a trial for a newspaper. Examples: Friday could sue Crusoe for coercion and kidnaping and slavery; the Harlowes could sue Lovelace for the alienation of their daughter's affections; Evelina could sue Sir Clement Willoughby for attempted rape; the reader could sue Sterne or Richardson for being boring.

Length: This paper will be longer than the 5-page minimum of choices I, II, and III.

Sample trial paper


V. A Short Story

Write your own short story; it does not have to have a connection with any novel read in this course. Or you may experiment; try presenting the point of view of a minor character from one of the novels, e.g., Friday, the Portuguese captain, Xury, Crusoe's mother or wife.

A short story must be fully developed; it is not merely a three-page statement of the action of conversation. Characters must be individualized, physically, emotionally, morally, spiritually, etc.; they must have some sort of relationship to others, their environment, and/or their society (note: one kind of relationship is the inability to form attachments). They must be placed in a physical world. The story must also have a point to be made and/or an effect to be achieved. Therefore a short story will be considerably longer than assignments I, II, and III.

Length: How long does the short story have to be? As long as it needs to be to achieve its purpose(s). Successful student short stories have ranged from ten pages to nearly fifty. (I do not mean to encourage length by sticking in unnecessary words. Wordiness and redundancy are serious flaws in any writing.)

Sample stories using the point of view of a minor character


VI. A Web Project

You may prepare an online segment for one of the authors or works or on some aspect of the nineteenth century. If you like to draw, you may interpret a novel with some illustrations. You do not have to know how to get your material on the Web; I will do that for you. If you know how to design a Web site, you may redesign one of my online lessons to be more effective. This assignment requires my permission; we would consult about a project and talk periodically, if only briefly and by e-mail.

Sample Web projects


The purpose of the Web paper is to insure that you have explored at least three of the Websites which are listed on my site. I recommend that one be the Dictionary of Sensibility, which defines key terms of eighteenth-century discourse. You will briefly analyze the three Websites: Was a Website useful? why or why not? Whom would it be useful for–student, scholar, general public, child, no one? Was it easy to use and clearly organized? Did you learn anything? If so,what? In other words, you are writing the kind of response you would give to a friend who asked what you thought of a particular Website

Minimum length: 1-2 pages


VII. The Ungraded Listserv Paper

The purpose of the listserv paper is to insure that you joined the C_18L (the eighteenth-century list) and followed some of the discussion for three weeks. The paper is a personal evaluation. Was the experience of learning about or joining a list of value to you? Why or why not? What, if anything, did you learn? This may include a fact, an idea, a theory, an observation about the correspondents or the list itself. What was your response to the readings–interested, disgusted, bored? Would you join another list, perhaps a list in a subject in which you have a deep interest or in which you have some–or a great–expertise?

Minimum length: 1-2 pages

Click on your choice:

[Sample critical essays]  [Sample personal essays]  [Sample societal/general essays]  [Sample trial paper]   [Sample short stories]   [Sample Web projects]


Revised: 8/29/02