Major European Novels

Seated Peasant by Paul Cezanne.

Paul Cezanne, Seated Peasant, 1895-1900, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Image courtesy of WebMuseum.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2008



Cite This Course

Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

This subject traces the history of the European novel by studying texts that have been influential in connection with two interrelated ideas. (1) When serious fiction deals with matters of great consequence, it should not deal with the actions of persons of consequence—kings, princes, high elected officials and the like—but rather with the lives of apparently ordinary people and the everyday details of their social ambitions and desires. To use a phrase of Balzac's, serious fiction deals with "what happens everywhere". (2) This idea sometimes goes with another: that the most significant representations of the human condition are those dealing with persons who try to compel society to accept them as its destined agent, despite their absence of high birth or inheritance.

Other Versions

Other OCW Versions

Archived versions: Question_avt logo

Related Content

Alvin Kibel. 21L.472 Major European Novels. Fall 2008. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

For more information about using these materials and the Creative Commons license, see our Terms of Use.