L351 9959 AMERICAN LITERATURE 1800-1865
Christoph Irmscher

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

This course is designed to give students an overview of what is usually considered the formative period in American literary history, from the end of Jefferson’s administration to the end of the Civil War. Throughout the course, our emphasis will be on close reading. Focusing on short passages, we will try to assess how writers have tried to make their texts “work” and the ways in which these texts, after all these years, still speak to us. At the same time, we will also try to increase our understanding of a particular historical situation, of a time in which certain kinds of writing mattered more to readers than others. We will pay attention to some themes that resonate through these texts, the emergence of an American national consciousness, for example, the function of sentimentality, the shifting conceptions of American nature, the specter of race and violence, and the plight of the working class, and we will ask ourselves how changes in the literary marketplace affected conceptions of authorship. A particular focus of the course will be the emergence of female authors, from Hannah Foster’s The Coquette (1797) to Elizabeth Stoddard’s 1861 novel The Morgesons.

For the sake of convenience, we will rely mainly on the selections in part B of The Norton Anthology, vol. 1, to be supplemented by the Dover edition of Margaret Fuller’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century and the Penguin editions of Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall and Elizabeth Stoddard’s The Morgesons. In addition to the readings, requirements will include brief informal writing assignments/quizzes, two formal papers of 8 pages each, and two exams.