Spring 2000
Topics in American Literature
ENGL 286.402
MW 3-4:30

Our focus in this seminar will be on themes, styles, and strategies of literary mourning and on their relation to a number of ostensive nineteenth-century American "cultures": e.g., sentimental culture, slave culture, pre-industrial culture, national culture. We'll investigate how writings of the period record diverse personal and collective experiences of loss and at how they, in so doing, help to construct and to challenge American histories, traditions, and identities. Possible approaches and authors include: comparing the perpetuation of cults of civic memory by Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Whitman with the creation of forms of national countermemory by Emily Dickinson and Indian activist William Apess; analyzing how Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois dramatize the suppression of grief and mourning among African-Americans; contrasting the sentimental embrace of worldly sympathy and belief in a personal afterlife by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps with the rejection of utopianism and religious consolation by Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Mark Twain; examining texts on Indian genocide by both Indians and whites alongside romantic fictions of the passing of indigenous societies. In conjunction with such readings, we'll also explore other nineteenth-century mourning phenomena: the Rural Cemetary Movement, the professionalization of the funeral industry, the vogues of spirit photography and postmortem portraiture, and sites and monuments of collective memory such as Gettysburg, Horseshoe Bend, and the Shaw Memorial.

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