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Spring 2018 Undergraduate English Courses: Nineteenth Century

358:344 American Realism and Naturalism

01  TTH6  CAC  18541  EVANS  HH-A5

Five Late 19th Century American Novels

This class offers an intensive reading of five novels written in the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century, a volatile, transitional period in the nation’s history during which almost everything we understand to be part of our contemporary way of life came into being. The period saw the end of slavery, the closing of the western frontier, the beginning of segregation, and the first debates about women’s suffrage, immigration, multiculturalism, and the melting pot. It saw the development of indoor plumbing and lighting, low-cost photography and moving pictures, dime novels and mass-market magazines, department stores and the transcontinental railroad. It was when the telephone was invented, and also the elevator, the machine gun, dynamite, toilet paper, the phonograph, surgical anesthesia, and the automobile. The academic disciplines as we know them today came into shape, including the founding of departments of English, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology. The period’s fiction, traditionally understood under the rubric of “realism and naturalism,” is marked by the attempt to innovate an aesthetic sensibility that reflects upon and interrogates these historical changes, with authors asking how one is to best go about representing truth in fiction. The novels we will read will likely include the following: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter; Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady; Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Charles Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition; and Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth. These will be supplemented by a wide sampling of the period’s visual and musical culture, as well as its intellectual debates. Attendance, participation, and the writing of several essays are required.