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Our Dark Materials: Nineteenth Century American Gothic Fiction

ENGL 053.601
W 6-9
fulfills requirements:
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major

Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts & Letters (for students admitted before Fall 2006) [Formerly ENGL 083]



John Milton wrote of the  “dark materials” that exist before the creation of a world. Nineteenth century American writers had a plethora of dark material to use, or to escape, as they struggled to shape a national literature. In this struggle, they wrestled with the literal and symbolic realities of greed, murder, infanticide, madness, incest, demonic possession and hauntings. They also confronted the national agony of the Civil War, writing about slavery and the unprecedented carnage of the battlefield.


Readings will include an early American Gothic novel, Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, stories by Washington Irving, Poe and Melville, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Henry James’ The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw. We’ll read a Gothic novella by Lousia May Alcott and ghost stories by Edith Wharton. We will also look at nonfiction writing from the Civil War:  accounts of tending the wounded and dead by Alcott and Whitman, and letters by soldiers.


You will write a very brief response paper for each class, a midterm exam, and a longer critical paper.  This course fulfills sector 5 of the English major.