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Topics in Modern American Fiction

ENGL 289.301
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12

In this course we will study a wide variety of modern American novelists and short-story writers whose innovative work first appeared in that decade of astonishing cultural transformation between the end of World War One in 1918 and the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. Against an historical background that included the Scopes evolution trial in 1925, the trial and execution of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, the solo flight from New York to Paris by Charles Lindbergh in the same year, and the outbreak of Ku Klux Klan terrorism in Oklahoma, literary culture in the United States underwent a sea-change that was influenced by the advent of James Joyce's Ulysses, T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, the post-Impressionist paintings of Pablo Picasso, and the first successful motion pictures to include sound. This is a period in American modernism that ushered in the new poetry of Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams; the plays of Eugene O'Neill; the experimental fiction of Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein; the African-American writers of the so-called "Harlem Renaissance;" the distinctive voices of Zora Neale Hurston and William Faulkner; and what is perhaps the most representative novel of the time, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. While this description of the period rehearses a familiar account of American modernism, our readings will include works by immigrant writers and other marginalized artists that will help us begin to reassess the cultural politics of this literary history. We will start by considering the work of writers whose careers began in the late nineteenth century, reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence and the lesser-known American realist Henry Blake Fuller's satirical novel of homoerotic desire, Bertram Cope's Year. From there we will move on to the proto-feminist, Jewish-American novel The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, and then read the early work of the African-American women writers Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen. We will read W. E. B. Du Bois' novel, Dark Princess, as well as Sherwood Anderson's Poor White, Willa Cather's The Professor's House, Ernest Hemingway's first collection of short stories, In Our Time, Djuna Barnes's Ryder, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. We will conclude the course with William Faulkner's 1929 novel, The Sound and the Fury. Students will write two or three short papers and complete two library research projects (an annotated bibliography and a longer research paper). For more information, contact Professor Dimuro at the e-mail address above.