Sem AM Lit (American Realism/American Modernism) (LSE/pre-1900)

This
course traces the arc of fiction writing
in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth
century.  From the 1880s to the 1930s,
the practice of writing realistic fiction and the social as well as
philosophical assumptions sustaining that practice changed radically,
transforming into the experiments of modernist fiction.

The
course begins with the various ways in which American writers developed the
project of Realism to demystify the romantic and supernatural narrative codes
that held sway through the Civil War and its immediate aftermath.  Enmeshed in the emerging scientific discourse
about precision and objectivity, realistic fiction in the latter part of
nineteenth-century America self-consciously served democratic ideology as well
as social reform.  In addition, notions
of “region” and the “local color” school of writing gave a particular emphasis
on place in American fiction.

However,
William Dean Howells’s famous description of Realism–“the simple, the natural,
the honest” (1891)– left wide open the methods for achieving realistic
narrative.  In addition to examples of
fictional stories rooted in specific realities (e.g. Crane’s stories about New
York City and Cather’s about rural Nebraska), we will also read an example of
an exposé, London’s “undercover” look at the east end of the city of London

Having
grappled with the complicated issues of “recording reality” raised by the idea
of Literary Realism, the course will then move to consider three writers who
helped to reconfigure the concept of representation in ways that mark the more
radical aspects of Literary Modernism: Stein, Hemingway, and Faulkner.

We
will also read a number of theoretical statements about the issues raised by
our primary texts.  These may include how
American realistic writing was conceived as a reaction to certain kinds of
earlier ideas about literary representation; how literary realism in the United
States borrowed from European sources yet was different in its practice; how
the concept of “naturalism” relates to literary realism; how other artistic
media, especially painting, impacted literary practice before WWI; how other
writing (e.g. journalism, ethnography, and psychology) impacted literary
practice before and after WWI; how WWI affected literary practice.

Goals

Students
taking this course should gain a keen understanding of the deceptively simple
quality of Howells’s nineteenth-century formulation and its implied
relationships among artistic endeavor, social history, and something called
reality–and how that formulation was complicated by writers in the twentieth
century.  Students will strengthen their
ability to account for the relevance of earlier cultural formations and
literary practices as well as strengthen their ability to conduct research.

Texts

  • Henry James, Washington
    Square
    (1880)
  • William Dean
    Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham(1885)
  • Stephen Crane, Maggie,
    A Girl of the Streets
    (1893)
  • Jack London, The
    People of the Abyss
    (1902)
  • Willa Cather, O
    Pioneers!
    (1913)
  • Gertrude Stein, Tender
    Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms
    (1914)
  • Edith Wharton, The
    Age of Innocence
    (1920)
  • Ernest Hemingway, In
    Our Time
    (1925)
  • William Faulkner, As
    I Lay Dying
    (1930)

Assignments

  • Summary reports: summaries will be
    on crucial theoretical readings early in the semester.
  • Oral reports: one report will
    be on a specific theoretical text, the student assuming the lead in the
    class discussion; another report will be on the long essay, the student
    explaining issues involved and problems encountered.
  • Short essays (probably three):
    this task will allow students the opportunity to employ secondary material
    to support readings of a specific primary text or texts; students should
    focus on a segment of the narrative and establish connections with at
    least one theoretical reading: 6 pp. minimum, plus works cited.
  • Long Essay: students will
    choose one of the short essays for expansion: 12 pp. minimum, plus works
    cited.
  • Abstract proposal (for the long
    essay: one page).