English E303: Literatures in English, 1800-1900 This course takes as its starting point a question asked often in U.S. mass media today: “What do they think of us?” The “they” in this sentence refers inevitably to some place or populace beyond the borders of America (France, all of Europe, “the Muslim world”). The “us” refers, of course, to the United States. The question is impossible to answer definitively—and it often produces responses that seem self-serving and oversimplified—but this has not stopped writers, journalists, and other public figures from asking it repeatedly over the last two years. Type the question or any of its variants in an internet search engine (“How do they see us now?” “Why do they hate us?”) and you might conclude that we live now in a country peculiarly interested in its international image: one that perhaps needs to project itself in the eyes of observers abroad in order to gain some sense itself at home. “We” have been here before. Throughout the nineteenth century American readers and writers were preoccupied with international opinion. Many sought to explain America—to justify its existence, to demarcate its boundaries, to critique its institutions—by contemplating it from the perspective of the foreign. In some cases this meant reading works about the United States written by non- Americans. In others it meant traveling overseas and then writing about the America one had left behind. In still others it meant inventing a foreign perspective (an immigrant narrator, a fictional tourist, etc.) and beholding America from the perspective of the newly arrived. We will read examples of each of these kinds of writings in this course in order to reflect on the question, “What did they think of us?” We will survey a number of writers (British and American especially) and encounter a variety of literary forms (poetry, novels, short stories, travel narratives). We will also think about what’s at stake when Americans regard themselves through the eyes of foreign observers, fictional or real. In what ways does this confer upon “us” a coherence and unity that might otherwise be difficult to discern? In what ways is the “they” that thinks about America a fantasy, a projection of American fears and desires? Which literary modes have been most useful to Americans fantasizing about themselves through the thoughts of others? How do these nineteenth-century fantasies compare to those of the early twenty-first century? We will thus satisfy one of the fundamental goals of E303—“the study of nineteenth-century British and American literature in the context of transatlantic cultural developments”—by thinking about American literature and “America” itself in their international contexts. Requirements are likely to include two or three papers, one of which may involve research into the international reception and circulation of one of the texts on the syllabus. Other requirements may include weekly reading response quizzes and vigorous participation in class discussions.