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Nineteenth Century American Literature

ENGL 583.301
instructor(s):
W 3-6:00

This course will introduce you to some of the major and emergent works of antebellum American literature, while also providing a cultural and critical context for the study of the period commonly referred to as both an American Renaissance and an Era of Reform. Indeed, seldom has the conjunction of literary innovation and reformist energies been so dynamic, or yielded such astonishing results. Writers from the centers and the margins of national life--working in traditional as well as experimental genres--formed and reformed the literatures of American nationalism, of liberal aesthetics, of moral reaction and social progressivism, of radical idealism and the nightmares of the real. We will study their works with an eye to the ways in which broad principles of reform (like democratization, iconoclasm, and transcendentalism) and even specific reform movements (such as temperance, abolitionism, and women's rights) helped shape and were themselves shaped by the literary imagination. Here is a sketch (subject to revision) of the reading we will do: short fiction and poetry by Washington Irving, Catharine Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, Lydia Sigourney, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Emily Dickinson; essays and other prose writings by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau; autobiographical narratives by Fanny Kemble and Frederick Douglass; novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Wells Brown, and Fanny Fern. We will also study the following with special care: a combined edition, from the 1830s, of the works of African-American poets Phillis Wheatley and George Moses Horton; the first three editions of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass; and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Students will write two 10-page essays, the second in conjunction with a bibliography exercise and in-class presentation exploring some aspect of the formation and reformation of American literature in recent Americanist criticism.