Nineteenth-century American writers and literary critics hoped to develop a canon of American literature that would distinguish itself from European literary traditions by representing a distinctively American identity and experience. When American literature emerged as its own field of study in the early twentieth century, critics had the same goal but a very different sense of what it meant to be an American, and therefore, what constituted the canon of American literature that would be taught and studied. Scholars of American literature in the present day, working with developments in feminist criticism and ethnic studies, have an expanded view of what counts as American literature. In this class we will read literature by both canonical and under-studied authors as a means to address the politics of canon formation in the nineteenth century and into the present day. Some of the now canonical authors of the nineteenth century, such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, were not critical or commercial successes in their own time. And the women writers who were loved by nineteenth-century audiences, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, were relegated to the margins of literary history until recent recovery work by feminist scholars brought some of this literature back into print. By reading works written by established male writers as well as forgotten and now rediscovered literature by women writers, African American writers, and American Indian writers, we will consider what we gain and lose by developing multiple canons of American literature.
Sample Reading List
Brown, William Wells. Clotel; Or, The President’s Daughter, (1853).
Child, Lydia Maria. Hobomok, (1824).
Cooper, James Fenimore. Last of the Mohicans, (1826).
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance, (1859).
Howe, Julia Ward. The Hermaphrodite, (c. 1846-7).
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, (1861).
Poe, Edgar Allen. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, (1838).
Rowson, Susanna. Charlotte Temple, (1791).
Sedgewick, Catharine Maria. Hope Leslie, (1827).
Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (1851).