English | American Literature 1865-1914
L352 | 28829 | Jennifer Fleissner
L352 American Literature 1865-1914
28829 - 4:00p-5:15p TR (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.
TOPIC: “Evolutionary Fictions”
In keeping with this fall’s “themester,” this course explores late
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American novels and short
stories that responded in varied ways to the contemporaneous
explosion of interest in evolutionary science. Topics will include
the relation between evolution and Progressivism; the notion
of “degeneration” or devolution, sometimes seen as an unexpected by-
product of modern progress; “evolutionist Gothic” (featuring the
animal-human hybrid or the re-emergence of the “atavism” or
throwback from an earlier evolutionary stage); the relation between
emotional responses and rational thought; the application of
evolutionary ideas to turn-of-the-century debates about the status
of women and African-Americans; “social Darwinism”; adaptation and
specialization; the persistence of Lamarckianism; and the
controversial (and continuingly debated) notion of “naturalist”
fiction, in which authors underscore the biological rather than
rational motivations for human behavior.
Likely texts will include Frank Norris, McTeague; Kate Chopin, The
Awakening; Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood; Charles W. Chesnutt, The
Marrow of Tradition; Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth; and shorter
works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Henry Adams, William James, and
Jack London, as well as background materials on late nineteenth-
century evolutionary thought.
Assignments will likely include several short response papers as
well as three essays, a midterm, and a final exam.