English | American Fiction to 1900
L355 | 26966 | Christoph Irmscher

Christoph Irmscher

26966 - 11:15a-12:05p MWF (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

In this course we will be reading a variety of fictional texts
(novels and short stories) with special emphasis on the concepts of
sentimentality and literary taste.  During its first year on the
market, George Lippard’s gothic novel The Quaker City (1844) sold
60,000 copies.  It continued to sell about 10,000 per year during
the next decade, making it the longest-selling book in nineteenth-
century American literature before Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).  Maria
Susanna Cummins’ The Lamplighter (1854), a novel set in the slums of
Boston, easily surpassed even Lippard in terms of sheer copies sold,
prompting Nathaniel Hawthorne to grumble, “What is the mystery of
these innumerable editions?”  Emily Dickinson and her brother Austin
allegedly kept a copy of Longfellow’s faintly erotic novel Kavanagh
hidden in the family piano to feast on it when their father wasn’t
around.  While we cannot reproduce the impact writers like Cummings,
Longfellow, and Lippard (or, for that matter, Fanny Fern and
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps) had on nineteenth-century readers, we can
still contemplate some of the reasons for their success and look at
the often paranoid response they elicited from now safely canonical
writers such as Hawthorne and Melville, whose works (selections from
Hawthorne’s tales; Melville’s Typee) we will also study in some
detail.  Several sessions of the course will likely be held in the
Lilly Library, so that you can get some first-hand experience in the
handling of primary material, including manuscripts.