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Spring 2013 Undergraduate English Courses

350:316 Antebellum American Literature

01 MW7 CAC 52613 IANNINI SC-116

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville put forward a provocative
thesis about the relationship between democracy and literary form. “Taken
in its entirety,” he proposed, “literature in democratic centuries cannot
present the image of order, of regularity, of science, and of art as in
aristocratic times; in it, form will ordinarily be found neglected and
sometimes scorned. Style will often show itself bizarre, incorrect,
overloaded, and soft, and almost always bold and vehement . . . an
uncultivated and almost savage force will reign in thought.” Moving from
initial revulsion to begrudging admiration, Tocqueville’s ambivalence
about this revolution in literary form is palpable, and reflects his
ambivalence about certain key contradictions within nineteenth-century
American culture more generally: between individualism and social
conformity (or what he called the despotism of public opinion),
urbanization and the worship of nature, religiosity and market values, the
ideal of freedom and the practice of slavery. This course will explore the
implications of Tocquevile’s claim by reading deeply and widely in
American literature from roughly 1830 to 1860, the period when, as many
scholars argue, a classic American literature first emerged. How does the
literature of the period, we will ask, address the contradictions of its
historical moment through its radical experiments with form?