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Citizen, Soul, and Self Before 1900: Fictions of Personhood in American Literature

ENGL 253.301
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

This seminar will explore ways that nineteenth-century authors tried to reinvent inherited ideas about the self and self-formation. As the forces of modernization intensified in the nineteenth century, dominant models of the human individual such as the republican citizen and the Christian soul began to seem inadequate or illusory. We will draw on sociological and psychological theory (William James, Freud, Habermas, Giddens) in order to examine new ideas of selfhood that emerged from this crisis. We will begin by reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Herman Melville to ask how these authors attempted to fuse religious and political ideas of selfhood to speak to a nation on the verge of civil war. Next we will explore the way experiments in literary technique helped to illuminate new ideas of a divided or multiple self in such writers as Walt Whitman, Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, Pauline Hopkins, WEB DuBois, Henry James and Stephen Crane. Finally, we will read two or three twentieth-century novels, possibly including Edith Whartons House of Mirth and William Faulkners Light in August, to understand how these nineteenth-century dilemmas were a key influence on American Modernism.

Requirements: two short papers, a class presentation, and a final research paper. Students should feel free to contact me with any questions about the seminar (nbentley@english.upenn.edu).