Confessional Writing: Fiction and Autobiography
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Level: Undergraduate
Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: School of Undergraduate Studies
Department: Humanities
Course Number: NLIT 3879
Course Format: Seminar
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Literature
  • Non-fiction
  • Fiction
Our current confessional culture has a long literary pedigree. “Let my fellow men hear my confessions,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his seminal autobiography, published after his death in 1788. “Let them groan at my depravities, and blush for my misdeeds.” How has a literary genre shaped by the practice of priests led us to “reality” TV? This course traces the literary forms of confession through a series of best-selling autobiographies, first-person novels, memoirs, and autobiographical fiction. We begin with Saint Augustine’s fourth-century Confessions and the 18th century invention of autobiography. To grasp the flowering of the pseudo-autobiographical novel, we read such mid-Victorian masterpieces as Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Dickens's David Copperfield. We also consider the popularity of the slave memoir, reading Frederick Douglass's bestselling Narrative. Finally, we return to the genre-bending confessions of a novelist in our own time and place, reading Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John and “Biography of a Dress.”
Course Open to: Degree Students