Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Origins of the American Novel, 1791-1859

ENGL 282.301
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3:00

What happens when a literary form (such as the novel) comes under pressure to adapt to a new nation's needs? In the early United States novels were often thought to be crude, irreligious, morally debilitating, and dangerously stimulating to readers (especially women and young people). But the genre also potentially had a special role in forming national feeling, thereby contributing to the project of nation-making. When there began to be calls for a truly American novel to be written, there were contradictory pressures upon writers who sought to answer that call. In this course we will read, in historical sequence, some representative novels of the young nation-by female authors and male, white authors and black, Southerners and Northerners, gothic writers and sentimentalists-and ask how they were created and received under these social pressures. Among the readings are likely to be Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple (1791/94), Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland (1799), James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie (1827), William Gilmore Simms' The Yemassee (1835), George Lippard's The Quaker City (1844), Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables (1851), Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall (1855), Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth's The Hidden Hand (1859), Augusta Jane Evans' Beulah (1859), and Harriet Wilson's Our Nig (1859).