English | American Literature 1800-1865
L351 | 7005 | Jon Blandford


L351 7005 AMERICAN LITERATURE 1800-1865
Jon Blandford

9:30a-10:45a TR (30 students) 3 cr.  A&H.

TOPIC:  “Crimes and Punishments in Nineteenth-Century American
Literature”

Much as in our present forensically-obsessed cultural moment,
narratives of crime and punishment fascinated Americans during the
first part of the nineteenth century.  These narratives, found in
both popular texts and more conventionally literary works, allowed
authors and readers to investigate the lives (and minds) of
criminals, probe questions of evidence, and interrogate the justice
of the nation’s laws and institutions.  This course will invite
students to explore a diverse body of such texts, which we will
consider in light of a variety of interpretive and historical
contexts, including the emergence of crime literature as a popular
genre, controversies over the social implications of
reading “criminal” texts, and debates over the institution of
slavery and the policy of Indian removal.  Taking a capacious view
both of what constitutes crime literature and what constitutes
literature proper, we will read texts by canonical figures such as
Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Harriet Beecher Stowe; texts
by lesser-known (though often popular in their day) authors such as
Robert Montgomery Bird and Catharine Williams; and even some texts
written by criminals themselves.  With an eye to tracing the lines
of continuity and the ruptures between nineteenth-century ideas
about crime and justice and our own cultural moment, we will also
occasionally supplement our readings by looking to examples from
contemporary film and popular literature.  In addition to keeping up
with the reading, students will be asked to compose two substantive
analytical essays and to help shape our class discussions by
generating questions and points of departure.