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ENGLISH 27Q: The Childhood Novel

Meet the Instructor | General Education Requirements

Course Description

In this course, we will consider the first volumes of three ambitious literary projects: Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time; Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels; and Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle. These writers, and the novels they wrote, may seem, at first glance, to be very different. Proust was a gay French writer, born in 1871. Ferrante is a reclusive Italian novelist whose identity has, for many years, been a mystery (including her year of birth). Knausgaard is a kind of literary rock star, a Norwegian novelist of immense fame.

But all three novelists share a fascination with childhood, and all three novelists have produced works that walk a very fine line between fiction and memoir, imagination and memory. In reading the first volumes of these three long novel sequences, we'll consider what aspects of the writer's life are fit for the page. At what point does the novelist's allegiance to the recollection of their own particular past give way to their invention of a fictional world we can only dwell in? What is the difference between Proust, Ferrante and Knausgaard's first-person narrators and Proust, Ferrante and Knausgaard themselves? And what lessons might we draw from these novelists and novels when it comes to writing about our own childhood experiences?

General Education Requirement

Meet the Instructor

Austin Smith

Austin Smith

"I work primarily as a poet, but I also work on fiction rooted in the Midwest. Having grown up on a family dairy farm, I am particularly interested in novels involving family history, childhood remembrances, and environmental and political themes."