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The Experience of Innocence

ENGL 053.920
MW 6-9:10

Nineteenth century American writers specialized in big, inclusive, sometimes sprawling forms. But the century also produced brilliant, chiseled short works, tales that in ten or a hundred pages create worlds that are just as complex as those of Moby Dick or Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We’ll read several short works, most of which explore a traditional American dilemma: innocents confronting forces far beyond their experience or understanding. The readings will include Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno, short stories by Hawthorne and Poe, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton’s Summer. We’ll conclude with a very contemporary work to show that innocence is still threatened (not that the point needs to be proved). You’ll write several brief response papers and a final paper that you’ll develop in stages throughout the session. If you have questions, please feel free to email

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