Note: This is a Freshman Seminar, for the Class of '99. Howeover, in special circumstances a sophomore may take the course with permission of Prof. Bentley. This course satisfies the entire College Writing Requirement.
In the wake of the Cold War, our attention has focused increasingly on conflicts about gender, art, sexuality, racial and ethnic identity, media and mass consumption. These kinds of cultural struggles, where the stakes are the powers of language, feeling, and imagination, were also defining struggles during the previous century. This course will explore nineteenth-century American fiction as the original ground for these conflicts or "culture wars." Before the complex works of Toni Morrison there were the bold novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The explicit art of Robert Mapplethorpe was preceded by the oblique art of Henry James. Reading these works can help us see crucial controversies that have directly shaped our own. They can also allow us to think about how forms of private entertainment -- stories and novels -- can be the site of political and social contests. Our course will include works by writers such as Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Rebecca Harding Davis, Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. There will be frequent writing assignments.