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I. 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:

Emma: values and social class, Emma: an unlikable heroine (?), Emma's snobbery, Austen's attitude toward marriage or toward love, the position of women in Highbury society, Mr. Knightley: the perfect hero (?), fancy versus reason, the narrator, Jane Fairfax: a paragon (?), or the use of weather;

Jane Eyre: Jane's spiritual journey, the use of fire or window imagery, Jane's relationship to and view of society, Rochester's relationship with Jane, the abused child, the role of Helen;

Wuthering Heights: weather imagery, Nellie Dean's role(s), a comparison of the first and the second generation of Earnshaws and Lintons, Bronte's view of love, the role of Lockwood, Heathcliff as hero;

Vanity Fair: Becky Sharp's innocence, the character of the narrator, Thackeray's use of gambling, Thackeray's attitude toward Amelia, the reader's view of Amelia, the characterization of society, the effect of Thackeray's drawings in interpreting the novel;

Great Expectations: fire or hand imagery, corruption and criminality, the abused child, parenting and its consequences, the unattainable female (Estella for Pip), the effect of money, corruption and criminality, Pip's moral growth or lack of, the role of Jaggers;

Middlemarch: the function of St. Theresa in Middlemarch, the unattainable male/female (e.g., Casaubon for Dorothea, Dorothea for Casaubon, or the unattainable male/female (e.g., Casaubon for Dorothea, Dorothea for Casaubon, Rosamond for Lydgate), vocation, or aspiration;

Tess of the D'Urbervilles: Tess as victim, Tess as the unattainable female for Angel, Angel's transformation, the significance of the subtitle A Pure Woman, Hardy's philosophizing. You may prefer to compare aspects of two novels, for example, are Heathcliff and Rochester the same type of man? how do Dickens and Thackeray portray society? the narrator in Emma and in Vanity Fair

Or you may analyze a key scene in the novel to explore a major theme or the nature of one or more characters, for instance, does Emma's epiphany at the end of the novel indicate a fundamental change in her?

Minimum length: 1200 words.
Sample critical essays

II. 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, Emma's self-delusion or persistence in error may lead you to explore a self-delusion you persisted in or her manipulation of others may resemble your need to manipulate others; her egotism may lead you to explore your egotism or the egotism of someone you know. The gossip and observing eyes of Highbury may remind you of a close-knit community you have lived in or community pressure you have experienced. The consuming passion of Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights may resonate with your fantasies, ideal or experience. Like Heathcliff, you may have suffered being excluded because of being different in some way from the group or may have observed someone being excluded.

Minimum length:1200 words
Sample personal response essays

III. 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 relationship of Emma and her father may lead to a discussion of the consequences of the permissive attitude of many parents; the detrimental effects of marriage on Lydgate and/or on Dorothea, to an examination of the state of marriage today or of the need for divorce; the corrupt values of society in Vanity Fair, to an examination of the materialism or equating of money, success, and fulfillment in American society. Other possible topics: Heathcliff as the Other and the position of the Other in our society (the Other may be persons of color, the poor, women, anyone whose nationality, religion, etc. differs from that of the majority) or Heathcliff the outsider and the treatment of immigrants.

Minimum length:1200 words
Sample essays of soscial analysis

IV. Putting an author and/or a character on trial

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: Harriet could sue Emma for misdirection and abuse of trust; Mr. Martin could sue Emma for alienating Harriet's affections; the reader sues Austen for triviality or George Eliot for being boring; Heathcliff charges the Earnshaws with kidnaping and slavery. The state could sue Mrs. Joe for child abuse and Joe as an accessory.

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., Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates, or someone who knew Heathcliff during the missing years. Or you may write for a major character like Mr. Knightley or Heathcliff. 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.)

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

VII. The Ungraded Web Paper and the Victoria List Paper

The purpose of the Web paper is insure that you have explored some of the Websites which are listed on my Website. You will link to at least three nineteenth century Websites and explore them. I recommend that at least one of them be the Victorian Web, which is a treasure trove of information. You paper will be a brief analysis of the three Websites; Was it useful? and why? Whom would it be useful for–student, scholar, general public? Was it easy to use and clearly organized? In other words, you will be writing the kind of response you would give to another student who asked what you thought of the Website

The purpose and the approach to the Victoria paper are the same.

Minimum length: 1-2 pages

Click on your choice:

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