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Transnational Melville

ENGL 783.301
Wednesdays 9-12:00 pm

After the publication of his early sea tales (Typee and Omoo), Herman Melville was popularly known as the “man who lived among cannibals.”  Writing in obscurity after the 1850s and rediscovered in the 1920s, he was canonized as one of the representative authors of nineteenth-century American literature by the publication of F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance in 1941.  This course asks how a writer so thoroughly immersed in transnational circuits of trade and travel was interpreted by later critics as a quintessential “American” author. We will explore the many international dimensions of Melville’s writing, from the 19th century contexts of sailing, slavery, colonialism and revolution to 20th century readings of Melville from postcolonial perspectives, such as C.L. R. James Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1952). For example, we will consider Melville’s well known interest in the meaning of liberty and freedom in relation to the legacy of the Haitian revolution and 19th century sailor’s revolts. We will read Melville’s work along side writing of his contemporaries, such as Martin Delaney, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Lydia Maria Child. In addition to Melville criticism, we will also read current critics who theorize transnational approaches to literature.  Texts by Melville include Typee, White Jacket, Moby Dick, Billy Budd, “Benito Cereno,” “The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles,” The Confidence Man, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and Israel Potter.