Studies in British and American Authors

1:25p-2:15p MWF (30 Students) 3 CR. Satisfies A&H
Distribution Requirement

TOPIC: “Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, and Mark Twain”

This course will explore the writings of three of the most important American novelists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Charles Chesnutt, heralded during his lifetime as the first major African-American novelist, devoted his major works to the subject of race and class relations in the rural South and the urban Northeast. Kate Chopin, celebrated for her early sketches of Louisiana but then scorned after the publication of The Awakening in 1899, has been recovered recently as an early feminist writer and forerunner of American modernism. Mark Twain, best known for his novels about boyhood on the Mississippi River, ended his career by publishing much darker and more pessimistic accounts of American life.

Though we will examine their lives and careers individually, we will be most interested in investigating what connects and what separates them. How did each writer work within the “local color fiction” tradition that enabled their literary careers? How and why did each one work to move beyond this tradition? How did each respond to the major social controversies of the day, especially Jim Crow racism, the struggle for women’s rights, and the emergence of the United States as a global empire? How did they respond to the criticisms that surrounded their later, more political works? How do we explain the controversies that still sometimes surround their works?

By asking these questions we will be thinking of ourselves as cultural historians, and students should be prepared to do a modest amount of historical reading and research. Our focus will always be on the literature, however, and how it both refracts and seeks to intervene in history. Among the texts we may read are, from Chesnutt, The Conjure Woman, The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line, The House Behind the Cedars, and The Marrow of Tradition; from Chopin, At Fault, Bayou Folk, A Night in Acadie, and The Awakening; and from Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, and various short stories and sketches. Required work will likely include weekly reading quizzes, two 5-7 pp. papers, regular attendance, and vigorous participation in class discussions.