Fall 2021 Undergraduate English Courses

358:343 Nineteenth Century American Fiction


The nineteenth century in the United States was a period of exceptional civil discord, marked by slavery, territorial conflicts with Mexico and Spain, a Civil War, genocidal wars against the Native population, and the institutionalization of racial segregation and restrictions on immigration. And yet, it is also the moment when the very notion of an “American literature” as a national, culturally cohesive body of writing came into focus. In other words, the idea of

American literature emerges alongside the question of whether the nation would be torn apart or cohere, whether there would be union or disunion, one or many. Perhaps not surprisingly, the period’s literature takes on this problem of the one and the many in particularly interesting ways—testing it out as a social and political idea and also as an aesthetic one.

The focus of the class this semester will be the short story, a genre recognized during the period as one in which American production rivaled that of the other major national literatures. We will consider the publishing history of American newspapers and magazines that helped establish the genre in the States, as well as the transatlantic circulation of stories that provided for its national standing. We will look at the gendering of the short story, its relation to commercial enterprises and advertising, and its relative ephemerality when compared to novels. We will also study how the divisive sectional and racial struggles of the period effected both the kind of literature being produced and the sense of what counted as an aesthetic provocation. Major authors include Catharine Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Chesnutt, Ambrose Bierce, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Stephen Crane, Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton), Sarah Orne Jewett, and Zitkála-Ša.

Course evaluation will be based on class participation, two essays, and an independent research project to be developed in consultation with the professor. This course will be run in a “hybrid” format, meeting in person once per week.