English 4188-02, Spring 2004

Individual Authors: Edith Wharton and the House of Fiction


Dr. Debra MacComb

Office: TELC 2232

Office Phone: 836-6512 (messages); email: dmaccomb@westga.edu

Office Hours: TR 11-12 and 2-3; W 9-1. I will also happily see you by appointment


Required Texts:


Dwight, Eleanor.      Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life. (Abrams)

Wharton, Edith.         The Age of Innocence.  (Norton Critical)

                                    The Custom of the Country. (Penguin)

                                    Ethan Frome and Summer. (Houghton Mifflin)

                                    The Fruit of the Tree. (Northeastern)

                                    Glimpses of the Moon.  (Signet)

                                    The House of Mirth. (Signet)

                                    Roman Fever and Other Stories.  (Scribner’s)

                                    The Writing of Fiction. (Touchstone)

Various handouts as noted on syllabus.


Course Description


In his Preface to the New York edition of The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James called upon an architectural figure to describe the process of writing:

The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and the pressure of the individual will.  These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene. . . . The spreading field, the human scene, is the “choice of subject”; the pierced aperture . . . is the “literary form”; but they are, singly or together, as nothing without the posted presence of the watcher—without, in other words, the consciousness of the artist.

One of these “posted presence[s],” Edith Wharton was certainly a mistress of the house of fiction and one who could—perhaps better than most—understand the aptness of James’s metaphor, for her first published work, The Decoration of Houses, articulates principles for constructing and relating interior and exterior spaces with regard for both tradition and innovation.  This course will study Wharton’s career as a writer—certainly of outstanding works of fiction, but also of travelogues and aesthetic theory—in terms of her varied interests in form, space and relation.


Course Method


This is a writing intensive course.  By successfully completing this course, you will receive WAC (Writing across the Curriculum) credit toward graduation.  The goals of WAC are to encourage students to use writing as a way to learn, to show students how to write more effectively in their disciplines, and to improve students’ writing skills.  All students with a major in the College of Arts and Sciences must satisfy the requirements of WAC to graduate.  These requirements include at least two 3000/4000 level W courses, for a total of six hours of which three hours must be in the major.  Additional WAC certification is also available.  See the undergraduate catalogue for details.


Course Goals


  1. Students will become familiar with the career of a major figure in literature.
  2. Students will understand how that writer’s work both embodies the literary tradition that precedes it and influences the literature that follows it.
  3. Students will appreciate the ways in which a writer’s career and reputation are influenced by social, political, historical, and cultural forces.
  4. Students will demonstrate in both oral and written work a discipline-specific critical facility through convincing and well-supported analysis of related material.
  5. Students will demonstrate their command of academic English and the tenets of sound composition by means of thesis-driven analytical prose.
  6. Students will learn to use discipline-specific computer technologies related to the study of language such as listservs, word processing, and internet research.

Class Policies:

Attendance:  Missing more than 10% of  class will be grounds for lowering your grade; missing 20% will be grounds for failure.

Late Response papers, Prospecti, Researched Essay will be accepted only with a documented excuse.  Other late work will be penalized at the rate of ½ grade per class day late.

Evaluation Procedures:

  • Active and informed participation (10%). Students should come to class prepared to contribute to class discussion on the assigned readings.  Brief quizzes will periodically preface discussion; they cannot be made up.  Since it is impossible to be an “active and informed” participant if you regularly miss class, irregular attendance will be grounds for lowering your final grade.  Missing more than 20% of the class meetings will be considered grounds for failure.  Perfect attendance, while certainly meritorious, is not synonymous with “active and informed participation.”
  • Reading questions (10%).To insure class discussion/active listening, students will prepare brief but well-constructed response of about 200 words as we begin each text designated by an asterisk on the syllabus.  Your response should direct our attention to a specific passage in the reading, explain how the passage is operating (what it is saying, both literally and thematically; what its dominant metaphors suggest; what events it alludes to; and what distinguishes the passage rhetorically or stylistically).  Finally the response should conclude by posing a focused, specific question (or questions) about how this isolated passage relates to, or what it reveals about, the main issues/purpose of the text as a whole.    These responses should demonstrate personal interest and inquiry; they will be shared in class, collected and recorded ( /+,   / ,    /-).   These responses should be typed; they are due at 10 AM on the day the asterisk appears on the syllabus—you must, therefore, read ahead.  You may leave a hard copy of your reading questions in my English Department mailbox or you may email them.  Note: I must receive the reading question by 10:00, so don’t count on emailing your response at 9:59 and having it received on time.  It’s your responsibility to get it to me, so you need to take into account that email doesn’t always function as we would desire.  I will not accept late responses.
  • Response papers (30%).  Three brief analytical essays (2-3 pages each) based on a choice of several broad topics. These brief essays will require a synthesis of ideas arising from class discussion.
  • Final Exam (20%).  Short identification, explication and essay.
  • Prospectus (10%) and Researched Argument (20%).  In consultation with me, students will develop an argument arising from the texts and issues addressed in class discussion.  This argument should take into account the most pertinent literature in the field.

The in-class assignments and the reading questions are informal, writing-to-learn activities in which you will be using the writing exercise itself to come to terms with the material you have read.  Your responses will be used to generate class discussion as well as to help you develop you abilities to read and write about what you have read.  These assignments will be evaluated according to these expectations with a  /+, / and /-.  The other writing you do for this class may grow out of these informal exercises; however, the response papers, research project and final exam will be evaluated in terms of departmental expectations for formal academic writing.


Academic Dishonesty


Plagiarism is grounds for failure in the course; in addition, I will report any instance of plagiarism to the Dean for disciplinary action.  Plagiarism is the use of another’s words or ideas as if they were one’s own.  Therefore, if you borrow an idea, either


--express it in language entirely your own and acknowledge your borrowing with a parenthetical reference or footnote


indicate the exact extent of your debt to the actual words of the source by enclosing them in quotation marks and document the source according to MLA conventions.


Further, submitting the same paper in multiple classes—no matter whether those courses are taken in the same or different semesters—is a form of academic dishonesty and will result in a failing grade for the course.




Week 1  

T             1/6           Course Introduction


R             1/8           Discussion: Dwight, 7-68; excerpts from The Decoration of Houses (1897) and “Italian Villas and Their Gardens” (1904) (handouts)


Week 2

T             1/13         Dwight, 69-118; *The House of Mirth


R             1/15         The House of Mirth


Week 3

T             1/20         The House of Mirth


R             1/22         The House of Mirth


Week 4

T             1/27         Dwight, 119-140; *“A Motor-Flight Through France” (1906—handout); The Fruit of the Tree


R             1/29         *The Fruit of the Tree


Week 5

T             2/3           The Fruit of the Tree                                           Directed response #1 due


R             2/5           *“The Other Two,” “Souls Belated,” “Autres Temps”

                                (All in Roman Fever and other Stories)


Week 6

T             2/10         *The Custom of the Country


R             2/12         The Custom of the Country


Week 7

T             2/17         The Custom of the Country


R             2/19         Dwight, 141-210; *“Fighting France” (1915—handout)


Week 8

T             2/24         *Ethan Frome


R             2/26         Ethan Frome                                                        Directed response #2 due

F              2/27         Last Day to Withdraw with grade of “W”


Week 9

T             3/2           Ethan Frome       


R             3/4           *Summer

Week 10

T             3/9           Summer


R             3/11         Summer                                                                  Deadline to discuss prospectus


Week 11

T             3/16         *The Writing of Fiction, Xingu


R             3/18         The Writing of Fiction,  After Holbein         Prospectus due


Spring Break 3/22-3/26


Week 12

T             3/30         Dwight, 211-end; *The Age of Innocence


R             4/1           The Age of Innocence                                         Directed response #3 due


Week 13

T             4/6           The Age of Innocence


R             4/8           The Age of Innocence


Week 14

T             4/13         *Glimpses of the Moon


R             4/15         Glimpses of the Moon


Week 15

T             4/20         “The Last Asset,” “Angel at the Grave,” “Roman Fever”


R             4/22         Last Day of Class: Final Exam preview             Documented Essay due


R             4/29         Final Exam, 11am-1pm; please bring large bluebooks