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Topics in Modernism: Old Bonds, New Contracts, and the Problem of Freedom

ENGL 359.301
MW 2-3:30

Old Bonds, New Contracts, and the Problem of Freedom



�A large fortune means freedom, and I�m afraid of that. It�s such a fine thing, and one should make such a good use of it. If one shouldn�t, one would be ashamed. And one must keep thinking; it�s a constant effort. I�m not sure it�s not a greater happiness to be powerless.� Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady.

This course will examine Henry James�s consideration of American confidence in freedom. The consequences of an American commitment to Lockean individualism are felt most keenly when characters seeks to challenge the old bonds and write new contracts for themselves. We will watch James make his case for necessity of making the �constant effort� to �keep thinking.�


We will first look at the contract theory of government in Hobbes�s Leviathan and Locke�s Second Treatise of Government. Then we will look at the critique of Enlightenment confidence in rationality in Burke�s Reflections on the Revolution in France. Finally, we will look at Tocqueville�s Democracy in America for a sifting of the strengths and weaknesses of the new American Republic. When we turn to James, we will read The Bostonians, Portrait of a Lady, and The Ambassadors.

A final paper of about 10-12 pp. and regular class participation.