The course will examine a range of issues informing United States literature of the later nineteenth century. We will study poetry and fiction that emerges from the distinctive conditions of the time: polarities of wealth, the intensity of new urban centers, struggles to redefine a racial order, the continental reach achieved by new railways and waterways, adventures in imperialism, uneasiness about gender and family, and a cultural inventiveness presided over equally by Thomas Edison and P. T. Barnum. Variously fascinated and appalled by the profound changes in American culture, writers enlisted in the cause of producing literature under the banners of "Realism" and "Naturalism," while others balked at the efforts of these literary schools. We will explore the productive puzzle behind the literary debates: why was the age that produced realism experienced by so many as a time of dizzying unreality?
Readings will include works by Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charles Chesnutt, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Sui Sin Far, Theodore Drieser, Frances Harper, and Kate Chopin. Requirements for the course: a midterm exam, a final exam, and two papers. English 83 can be substituted for English 80 as a core requirement.