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Our Dark Materials: 19th Century American Gothic Writing

ENGL 053.601

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  racism, greed, murder, infanticide, madness, incest, demonic possession and hauntings.


We’ll start with Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland (arguably the first American novel) then contrast his view of a haunted family with The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne’s depiction of a town controlled by the Puritan theocracy. From there, we’ll look at Melville’s Benito Cereno,  a Civil War novella by Louisa May Alcott, and Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to examine the intertwining of the Gothic with the question of race.

We’ll conclude with ghosts, seen and unseen, in Poe, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and stories by Edith Wharton.


Course requirements include a very brief response paper for each class, a midterm and a take-home final.  You can use this course to fulfill sector 5 in the English major.

fulfills requirements
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major