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Edith Wharton and Willa Cather

ENGL 584.601
instructor(s):
W 6:30-9:10

A comparative study of two influential early 20th century American writers, this course (re)examines well-known and less familiar works as well as their critical reception, subsquent assessments, and recent theoretical treatments. Despite divergent professional and personal lives, Wharton and Cather converge suggestively in the intersections between realism and modernism, fiction and autobiography, creative standards and career demands, gender roles and social expectations, technology and art, architecture and nature, the European past and the contemporary American present. Readings will be chosen from such pairs of Wharton/Cather novellas and novels as "Bunner Sister" (written l896) and "The Bohemian Girl" (written 19ll); "The Touchstone" (1900) and "Alexander's Bridge (1912); "The House of Mirth" (1905) and "The Song of the Lark" (1915); "Ethan Frome" (1911) and "My Antonia" (1918); "The Custom of the Country" (1913) and "One of Ours" (1922); "The Mother's Recompense" (1925) and "The Professor's House" (1925); "Old New York: (1924) and "Death Comes for the Archbishop" (1927); "Hudson River Bracketed" (1929) and "Sapphira and the Slave Girl" (1940); the unfinished "Buccaneers" and destroyed "Hard Punishments." Auxiliary commentary and criticism--such as Candace Waid's "Edith Wharton's Letters from the Underworld: Fictions of Women and Writing, Wharton's autobiography "A Backward Glance (1934), Hermione Lee's "Willa Cather: Double Lives," a collection of Cather's own reviews and criticism--will be available for weekly consultation. In place of shorter papers and to focus discussion, a reading/critical journal will be kept and critiqued, by the professor and class members, if possible. The course will culminte in an individual project, presented to the class, pursuing an issue, theme, problem in a work by Wharton and/or Cather and/or one of their relevant contemporaries (e.g., Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, Sarah Orne Jewett, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, Mary Austin). Requirements may be modified depending on the needs of the class.