Seeing Triple: Expansive American Fiction

Course Outline:

This module sets out to explore three major American novelists who have recently written trilogies: Cormac McCarthy (The Border Trilogy), Philip Roth (The American Trilogy), and Marilynne Robinson’s three interlinked novels set in the fictional town of Gilead. In doing so, as well as enabling an extended engagement with the work of single writers, it will consider what the attractions of this extended form appear to be, and what it enables. It will also consider whether the form has proved especially beguiling and appropriate for American writers, and why that might be so. It will also explore how far the decision to write a trilogy seems to have been prospective as opposed to retrospective. The three writers selected offer considerable variety in terms both of style and subject matter, inhabiting the genre with a highly personal inflection; it might be argued that Robinson, the most recent, is the most apparently conventional in her practice (although her trilogy may well turn into a tetralogy). All three, however, are distinctively American, and the breadth of their form may reflect the fictional ambition seeking to ‘find/ Bravura adequate to this great hymn’ (Wallace Stevens). The course should interest those wishing to engage with 20th and 21st century American fiction as a means of thinking about America, but comes with a health warning: it requires, week by week, the careful reading of a substantial novel. ENGL 204 is a desirable but not compulsory preparation for it.