E303 0256 NORDLOH
Literatures in English 1800-1900

11:45a-1:00p D (30) 3 cr.


This course samples the literary cultures of Great Britain and America in the 19th century. The period featured dramatic changes in the ways people thought and lived, prompted in part by changes in the shape of the physical universe they inhabited. The United States exploded from a colonial dependency hemmed in on its western boundary by the Appalachian Mountains to a continental power barely confined by two oceans. Great Britain grew both outward beyond its island shores toward empire and inward beyond its deeply caste- and property-bound hierarchy of nobility toward the possibilities of the common man and--more slowly--woman.

A complete combined history of the times and literatures of these two powers would be impossible. So we will examine authors and works representative of the age, following a roughly chronological sequence that will provide a conception of the scope and direction of the development of the two bodies of literature over the century. And rather than rushing over the array of vital issues arising in this age of physical and intellectual expansion, we will focus on two essential and related ones: the democratic revolution and the creation of the new person. Political and social systems changed, but so did the very idea of what a human being was. Jane Austenís world of men and women obeying the fixed laws of their inevitable natures within a rigid system of estate-based worth and marriage contract gave way to Dickensís enterprising self-made boys who became socially responsible men, the BrontŽ sistersí destructively passionate women, Henry Jamesís emphatically unrestrained American girl. Primitives, country people, and urchins replaced drawing-room dandies. Sexual energy, violent passions, and inexpressible desire displaced cool logic and witty repartee. Walt Whitman could boast immodestly that ďI am larger, better than I thought, / I did not know I held so much goodness.Ē

Readings--a mixture of poetry and short fiction, excerpts from longer works, and at least four complete novels--will includes selections from poets and philosophers (including Blake, Wordsworth, and Bryant, Carlyle and Whitman, Tennyson and Emily Dickinson) and from fiction writers (Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy among the British, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Henry James, Horatio Alger, and Stephen Crane among the Americans). The class will proceed by discussion. Assignments will include small-group presentations, short in-class and out-of-class responses to discussion questions, a short essay (5-7 pages), and two exams.