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American Fiction

ENGL 089.001
MWF 11

From auspicious beginnings in Washington Irving's Sketch Book (1820), the short story quickly developed into a major American literary form. It emerged in tandem with new institutions and technologies of literary culture, entertaining huge numbers of readers, provoking critical appreciation and debate, making publishers rich and authors famous. In figures such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry James the short story found some of its foremost practitioners and early theorists. Other innovators and popularizers include the regionalists Bret Harte and Sarah Orne Jewett; Kate Chopin and Herman Melville, who tested extremes of brevity and expansiveness in the short story form; Louisa May Alcott and George Thompson, who titillated and scandalized readers with the lurid and the pornographic; Rebecca Harding Davis and Stephen Crane, who combined formal experimentation with social critique; Joel Chandler Harris and Charles Chesnutt, who experimented boldly with folklore and dialect. As we study closely these and other authors (including Mark Twain, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Frances Harper, Ambrose Bierce, and W.D. Howells), we will also consider the short story as a kind of case study in the history and theory of genre; as an intersection-point for elite, popular, and mass culture; and as a site of controversy over literary nationalism in the period.

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