Abstract

This article explores a network-forward approach to teaching Charles Dickens’s last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend. As it outlines heuristics for visualizing multiplot novels, the article also analyzes the feedback loop between novels and networks: i.e., how our understanding of one form (be it literary or sociopolitical) shapes our understanding of the other. For a case study, the author presents his experience teaching Our Mutual Friend in a recent 300-level literature class. Every Friday for ten weeks, his students read two parts of the novel’s twenty serial numbers and, using concept mapping software, created a sociogram—a visual representation of social connections. The result was an ever-evolving visualization not just of Dickens’s diffuse, multiplot novel but also of each student’s individual experience navigating distributed textual networks, reading multiplexity, and understanding mutuality. This article showcases the work of five students in order to exemplify some key concepts, issues, and conversations not only about networks but also about teaching. The serial sociogram activity raises productive questions about student engagement, equitable pedagogical practices, and the mutual relationship between teaching and research.

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