American Literature to 1900


Course Convenor:  Prof. Mark Ford

The course follows the development of American literature in English from its beginnings in narratives of discovery and settlement to the poetry and prose fiction of the 19th century. The chronological span of the course, which is wider than that of most period courses, is held together by a continuous attention to the idea of America, both as the subject of American writing, and as the context in which that writing was produced. The course takes account of important historical events and movements, such as Puritanism, the American Revolution, Transcendentalism and the Civil War, and a particular feature is the large part played by non-fictional writing (autobiography, history, travel, essays etc.). The aim of the course is both to introduce students to the work of a number of major American writers, and to help them to understand some of the forces which have shaped the preoccupations and techniques of American writing in general.

The course book is the Norton Anthology of American Literature, (8th edition), supplemented by several other works (mostly novels). Most of the texts studied in lectures and seminars are available in the anthology, which students are also recommended to use as a portable library-cum-reference-work.

Among the authors studied in the course are: John Smith (General History of Virginia), William Bradford (Of Plymouth Plantation), Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson (Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration), Benjamin Franklin, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Henry James.

Examination is by means of a 3-hour written paper, or by Course Essay, if preferred and if no other Course Essay is being submitted by the candidate in that year.