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The Early American Novel

ENGL 243.301
instructor(s):
TR 9-10:30

In the decades after the American Revolution writers and readers in the new United States composed and consumed novels in unprecedented numbers. Indeed, it seems that the emergence of the novel as a popular literary genre in North America coincided almost precisely with the emergence of the new nation. Our course will survey the full range of picaresque, sentimental, gothic and historical novels published during the tumultuous decades of the 1780s and 90s. Recent scholars have examined the many ways that early American novels allowed groups denied political participation in a new “democracy” (including women and members of the working class) to gain literacy, express dissent, and publicize social issues that had been excluded from debates over the U.S. Constitution. The more popular the novel became, scholars have argued, the more it challenged the authority of powerful elites, who in turn made the act of novel reading a target of derision and censure. Our survey of the early American novel will allow us to revisit and/or challenge these arguments and explore some new ones as well. For instance, we will ask how novels allowed readers and writers to define the position of the new nation in the hemisphere and the globe. We will also familiarize ourselves with some important works in the fields of novel theory and the history of the novel. Our primary texts will include some of the following: Hannah Foster, The Coquette; Charlotte Lennox The Female Quixote; William Hill Brown, The Power of Sympathy; Leonora Sansay, Secret History, or the Horrors of Saint Domingue, Charles Brockden Brown, Ormond andWieland; Royall Tyler, The Algerine Captive; and Susanna Rowson, Charlotte Temple. Course work will consist of regular journal entries, a class presentation, a semester-long research project, and a take-home final exam.