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Family Fiction: Writing the National Body, Post-Reconstruction

ENGL 281.401
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

In this course we will focus on the ways in which both literary and nonliterary (i.e., avowedly polemical) texts of the post-Reconstruction era negotiated that era's racial and gender politics, and the centrality of a family-nation rhetoric to this process. When North and South joined hands across the "bloody chasm" of civil war and Reconstruction, both politicians and political writers - the literary and the not-so-literary - rushed to describe this reunion as a family reunion, not at all incidentally opening the door to fears and anxieties about family integrity and, in consequence, a preoccupation with identifying and excluding illegitimate members. Driving this discourse, in which essentialist claims about race and gender both complement and contradict one another, and in which "infallible" body signs are asserted reliably to reproduce the "culture" of inheritance, is the dread of "passing"; and the result is a body of texts that are concerned with the threat and the possibilities in inter-marriage; with family genealogies and family inheritances; with lost and mistaken identities. Texts for the course will include political essays, autobiographical writing, and - primarily - fiction written by Pauline Hopkins, Charles Chesnutt, Mark Twain, Anna Julia Cooper, W. D. Howells, W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, among others.