History of the English Novel

Jan 2014

Fabulous class, taught by a professor who genuinely loves her material and wants her students to appreciate it as much as she does. Even if you think Pamela, for all its literary significance, is not something you should actually bother to read, and you suspect you're not up to puzzling out Tristram Shandy, or whatever, just take the class. She didn't force us to slog through every last page of Pamela, and I found it surprisingly rewarding to examine it as a text as opposed to talking about it in the abstract as I have in other English classes. You don't have to read all of Tristram Shandy either, though hopefully you will want to, and she walked the class through some of the more abstruse passages. She takes the time to give us a full sense of historical context for these works, making the class very accessible. If you're already well-versed in European history, you'll just have to sit tight for a little while she explains who Bonnie Prince Charlie is, etc., but don't get too full of yourself, since you almost certainly won't understand every reference in the books on this syllabus, and you'll appreciate her explanations when you find yourself lost. She does a lot of interactive close reading in her lectures, and I would have preferred less of it, but I'm just one of those people who gets burnt out on close reading quickly and prefers overall critical reflection on a work. The written assignments she had us do in lieu of a final paper at the end of the semester were highly enjoyable--I often found myself wishing I could write more than two pages! Professor Davidson has got to be one of the kindest and most enthusiastic professors in the English Department, and at Columbia as a whole. She is extremely intelligent and articulate, but manages to be completely down-to-earth. She is not patronizing or pretentious but also does not dumb anything down, does not play games or favorites, and overall just wants her students to enjoy and understand her curriculum. She has a rare touch, certainly deserves her silver nugget, and will someday I hope be bumped up to gold. This class was relaxing, informative, and all-around a lovely way to spend Monday and Wednesday mornings.

Dec 2013

Professor Davidson is so smart, so well-prepared, and incredibly nice. This type of course is geared towards upperclassmen who are themselves invested in the material, and this combined with all of Professor Davidson's qualities makes for a great and enlightening experience. There is a decent amount of reading, which is necessary given the seminar. But again, it's the type of course where one should want to do all the reading. The papers are very open and flexible so there is a lot of room to explore personal interests within the context of the assignments.

Dec 2013

Jenny Davidson is one of the most enthusiastic professors at Columbia/Barnard that I've ever encountered. Her love for the subject matter and her pop culture references made eighteenth century novels understandable and even relateable. She talks of History of the Plague Year as the first apocalyptic English novel. She is so incredibly intelligent and even though sometimes her questions range from "What is a simile" to identifying the origin of a random boxing reference, she steers the class well in identifying various narrative structures and techniques and illustrating the evolution of narration in novels. Books: A Journal of the Plague Year Pamela The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling The Life and Opinions of Trisham Shandy Evelina Persuasion

Jan 2006

Braverman does a noble job at bringing to life a bunch of novels (with the exception of a few) that tend to be real dozers. He is quiet, funny and very nice. His knowledge of the novels is impressive. I'm not a huge fan of the literature covered in this course, but I took it to fulfill a distribution requirement. If you like 17th and 18th Century literature, go for it. I have to agree with the previous reviewers disatisfaction with the grading. Overall, I was happy with my grade but I never like it when professors leave all of the grading to a reader. His reader happened to be the type who preferred a really cookie cutter essay that was hardly above a sparknote level of understanding of the novels. I attempted to say something somewhat sophisticated on the first essay but got shot down. On the second essay, I wrote a ton of BS and was enthusiastically rewarded. If this sounds like fun, dive right in!

Nov 2005

He's a nice man with a heart of gold. I really hope he doesn't read this website... but here's the honest truth: NOT a good teacher AT ALL. Boring, insubstantial lectures. Low level of discourse (it seems that "okay" is his favorite word, and he references movies and TV shows more than your average pop-culture junkie). For a British-lit fix that will leave you thirsting for more, take a course by Professor Mendelson instead.

Nov 2004

words cannot describe. she is awesome. i was too terrified to speak in class because i was so awed by claybaugh. fantastic - though taxing - syllabus (if you like victorian lit). TA's graded pretty easy, but even if i'd gotten a C I would still be writing a glowing review because Claybaugh really influenced the way I think & write about literature. She is impossibly smart. lectures were totally fascinating - try to keep up with the reading, but she brings up the layers of the text you wouldn't have gotten anyway, so if you get behind just keep going.... i wish i could take this class like 9000 times.

Sep 2004

Professor Claybaugh's class was hands-down the best course I've taken at Columbia. She provided extensive, useful historical background on different aspects of each novel; her lectures were completely engaging; she learned each of the sixty or so students' names and would send back a lengthy, friendly email every time you had a question or comment about a book or paper topic. Claybaugh expects thorough, thoughtful analysis of plot and style; you'll be more than happy to try your best. TAKE ANYTHING SHE TEACHES!

May 2004

Prof. Claybaugh got a teaching award this year so right off the bat that should tell you she's worth taking. She's very insightful, and like the other reviewers have said, she makes you want to read the books. She takes pride in her lectures, too - they were always well thought out and prepared. The reading list is great: Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre, Bleak House, Middle March, Jude the Obscure, Picture of Dorian Gray and Heart of Darkness. My only complaint is that she's very...historical. Which is fitting, I guess, but I was looking for more of a thematic analysis of the books. We'd never discuss WHY someone did something but the historical context around that decision. So, too, her expectations are different. In exams and papers, she asks for a formal analysis of character, plot and narration rather than a structural one. It was so foreign to us that the TA actually had to get up and explain what a formal analysis was! Bottom line: her style takes a little getting used, to -- but it was definitely an enjoyable experience. She gets excited student response to literature, she's lerned, and is SO helpful during office hours.