English | American Fiction to 1900
L355 | 25920 | Jennifer Fleissner

Jennifer Fleissner

11:15a-12:05p MWF (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.

TOPIC:  “American Gothic”

Why did Gothic fiction become popular in the late eighteenth
century, and again at the end of the nineteenth?  Put otherwise,
why, in two eras known for their leaps forward into “modernity” and
attendant discourses of progress (political modernity in the 1700s,
with the French and American Revolutions, and cultural modernity in
the 1800s, with industrialization, urbanization, and the rise of
consumer culture), would authors and audiences turn to writings that
speak to the darkest, least “civilized” recesses of the human psyche?

These questions are particularly intriguing to address in the
context of the United States, where Nathaniel Hawthorne once argued
it was almost impossible to write a Gothic work (or “romance”) due
to the nation’s cheery disposition, its many freedoms, and its lack
of a gloomy feudal past.  And yet the fiction of Hawthorne’s
nineteenth-century America in fact overflows with Gothic texts (very
much including Hawthorne’s own).  We’ll explore how this could have
been the case, and what ongoing questions about modernity and its
potential “dark side” the American Gothic can still pose to us as
readers today.  Topics will include:  the Gothic and modern science;
the Gothic and slavery; the Gothic and marriage; the Gothic and the
rise of evolutionary theory.

Readings will most likely include short stories by Edgar Allan Poe,
Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Charles Chesnutt, Charlotte Perkins
Gilman, and Mary Wilkins Freeman, and longer works by Charles
Brockden Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Pauline
Hopkins, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Henry James.  We'll also
look at slave narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs,
and at the beginning of the class we will ground our investigations
in a couple of pertinent essays by Sigmund Freud.

Students will be expected to write three essays (two 4-5 pp., one 7-
8 pp.) and to take a midterm and a final exam.