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Carly's avatar

What would be an interesting topic for a lengthy paper of literary criticism (more details inside)

Asked by Carly (4555points) August 8th, 2011

Hello writerly Jellies!
This semester I’m taking a high-level literary criticism class to complete my English major. Besides several reading assignments, the only other requirement for the class is to choose pretty much any body of fiction (must be at least 10 years old) and write a paper on whatever chosen topic using a critical lens to analyze the body of work, and it has to have a minimum of 30 pages (no max, I think).

I’m interested to hear what you might chose to write about if given this assignment. I’ve had a few ideas, but bouncing other thoughts around could really help me brainstorm.

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16 Answers

rebbel's avatar

The Original of Laura by Nabokov, that was published posthumously some years ago.
Could that be something?
There were quarrels about whether or not it should be published and after it was published it was critisised.
I am no big literature buff, this is what came to mind when reading your question.

everephebe's avatar

Choose a book you like and actually want to spend the time with.

Carly's avatar

@rebbel, Do you know what the argument was about it being published? Did he not want his “unfinished” work put out to the public? That sounds really interesting.

@everephebe that doesn’t really answer my question at all.. :/
don’t you think it would be obvious to choose a book I like?

Carly's avatar

Oh, found it! (apparently ” he left instructions for his heirs to burn the 138 handwritten index cards that made up the rough draft of his final and unfinished novel, The Original of Laura.”)
I guess they didnt burn them. lol

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Carly Obvious, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it bad. Most people choose majors/masters/careers so that they can do more of what they like, not less.

Carly's avatar

@Aethelflaed which is why it’s obvious, right? I never said it was bad, just not very helpful.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Carly Aaaaaaawwww ok. Now I gotcha.

So, if you want to go the classic route, browse the Penguin and/or Oxford Classics. Or are you looking for something that hasn’t been done as much before?

everephebe's avatar

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, from a feminist /post-structuralist standpoint.~
There are you happy now? Was that helpful?

My original point was this, pick disquisition over dispute, id est choose a book you like. Since I don’t know what you like I can’t really help you further without additional information.

efritz's avatar

aaaaaa I love the Left Hand of Darkness.

I’d really like to examine social mores and the concept of personal honor that The House of Mirth puts forward.

That or a really popular book series, like Harry Potter or Twilight or The Hunger Games, and then look at why it’s such a bestseller, why it’s so appealing to a huge audience. Not sure I could get through Twilight again though.

Jeruba's avatar

@Carly, I’d start by looking at a small number of works (say 3 or 4) that you have already read and found interesting and that you can group according to some commonality: for instance, same author, same theme, same social milieu. Then add to the list one or two books that fit the logical grouping and that you have not already read, and read them with the thesis of your paper in mind. The connecting link among them, whatever it is that makes them a “body” of work, is your starting point.

Don’t do The Original of Laura. It sounds like an intriguing challenge, but in my opinion it is simply not worth your time. I am a great fan of Nabokov and have read nearly everything he wrote, beginning some 40 years ago. I eagerly awaited this posthumous work and was thrilled to receive it as a Christmas gift when it was still fresh from the presses. What a ruinous disappointment. What we are seeing there, I believe, is the senseless, disjointed scribbles of a past master who has truly lost it and whose literary disintegration is not even an interesting and informative study. It’s just a grotesque, tragic spectacle and one that ought to have been kept decently discreet, reserved for scholars of his private papers, and not hyped and sold at outrageous prices as a bizarre novelty.

Kardamom's avatar

I’m just going to throw out some ideas for books that seem like they have a lot of stuff going on in them worth analyzing, that were also very interesting (to me at least) reads.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” by Tom Robbins

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins

Anything by Charles Dickens, but maybe choose one of the lesser known books.

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Here is a website that lists a bunch of Under rated books and authors in which you might find something you like. The list sounds very promising, especially if you want to move away from “the classics” that everybody knows (otherwise, for my own information, I would have you choose Wuthering Heights, because I still can’t fathom what made Cathy so mean and so stupid, or what made Heathcliff so darned mean, or why Heathcliff’s sickly son, Linton, became so mean, or why Cathy was attracted to Heathcliff who sounded like such a huge disgusting loser, or why Cathy’s husband Edgar allowed her to visit with Heathcliff instead of summoning the police, and why Edgar ever fell in love with Cathy in the first place because she too sounded like a huge disgusting loser. Except for Nelly Dean, who seemed to try to help everybody and was a fantastic gossip in the best sense of the word, everybody else in this whole story seemed really like a bunch of big dumb douches. I would love it if somebody could explain the appeal of these people and why so many people consider Cathy and Heathcliff’s love affair, if you want to even call it that, to be so romantic. They were both selfish old creepos! I mean come on, Heathcliff dug up his girlfriend’s grave so he could poke a hole in the side of her coffin so that when he eventually died, he could ooze on over into her coffin. Yeeeeeek! I would love it if someone could explain all of this to me.)

Carly's avatar

@everephebe oo, yes, thank you! Also, I apologize for coming off aggressive and/or ungrateful. I really do appreciate your responses, and everyone else’s.

@Aethelflaed, For this particular paper I have to support my thesis with at least 20 critical sources. According to my syllabus we have to “research _every__ piece of non-fictional writing written on the body of work” of my choice. So maybe something that has enough written on it, but nothing like Shakespeare (In fact, our class was advised not to do his work unless we were totally obsessed with him).

@Jeruba, Would you suggest coming up with a rough thesis/direction of criticism before choosing books to go with it, or visa versa?

Jeruba's avatar

@Carly, in your place I’d be thinking over the last, say, year’s worth of reading and saying…hmm, there’s those three Tana French books. They were mysteries, yes, but they were very literary novels at the same time. Have I read anything else like that? Why, yes, there’s the Kate Atkinson novels. Some similarity there: main character a detective, but not a cardboard cutout—rather, a flawed, complex character, very interesting…hmm, genre-bending a little bit…maybe I could explore what it’s like to place a flawed and conflicted narrator (an unreliable narrator, even) within a pretty formula-bound genre such as mystery and ask (a) how the novel still meets the criteria of the genre and (b) where and how it has to break out of the bounds of the genre in order to succeed on its own terms (if it does). How can I say it both does and doesn’t conform to the genre at the same time?

That would be an interesting starting point, and then I’d be off reading some reviews and looking for something more to add to the mix.

I would arrive at my actual thesis by an iterative process, modifying my list of works as I went along (unless I’d chosen the work of a single author as my corpus, thereby limiting my selections from the start).

The books I mentioned are too recent for your assignment, but I believe I could do the same sort of thing for nearly any period in the past 150 years of American and British literature. In fact, if I had your exact assignment, I would probably be thinking about George Eliot.

Kardamom's avatar

With this clarification, I think I’ll go back to my choice of Charles Dickens. He’s almost as well known as Shakespeare and probably has tons of stuff written about his books, but to me, he’s much more interesting and his stories seem to relate to our modern times, in ways in which Dickens may or may not have been able to predict. Bleak House is terrific.

linguaphile's avatar

@Kardamom- I LOVE Tom Robbins! It’s cool to see someone else who likes him. There are at least 100 critical sources for Tom Robbins out there—I did a critical paper on Jitterbug Perfume.

Another suggestion is anything by Zora Neale Hurston. She can easily be done from several different perspectives—feminist, African American, anthropologist/social commentary, to name a few. I’d pick “Their Eyes Were Watching God—” my favorite.

Jeruba's avatar

Interesting list (above), @Kardamom. I’m adding some of those suggestions to my library list.

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