358:345 Family, Sex, and the Illicit in American Literature

E6  6/27-8/5  MW 6:00-9:40 PM  CAC  04739  REARDON  MU-111

Family, Sex, and the Illicit in American Literature

At the turn of the twentieth century, the relationship between family and sex – necessarily interconnected concepts – became especially significant to the American literary imagination. This was a period that saw the proliferation of anti-miscegenation laws, the rise of divorce rates, the “awakening” of women’s sexual identities and early feminism, and a fascination with the purported “gross indecency” of homosexuality after the scandalous trial of Oscar Wilde – a spectacle which Henry James called “hideously, atrociously dramatic & really interesting.” In other words, it was a period when what was allowed – legally, socially, and imaginatively – in terms of sexuality and social institutions, was constantly in flux.

While investigating what makes the tension between sex and family “really interesting,” this course will attend to questions of how American writers of the period understood the concepts of family and sexuality, more broadly. What counts as a family? How did writers characterize sex and sexuality? What happens when the “family” and “sex” bump against one another (pun fully intended), and come into tension? We will pursue these and other questions to consider how American literature of this period imagines indeterminate – and often illicit – forms of social belonging and desire.

Primary texts will include works by some of the following: James Baldwin, Kate Chopin, Hart Crane, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Pauline Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry James, Nella Larsen, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Walt Whitman.

Requirements will include: active and engaged participation; short weekly writing assignments; and one mid-length essay.

NOTE: Because our reading will span two centuries, this course may count for either the “Nineteenth-Century” or the “Twentieth-Century and after” period requirement for the English major.