David T Holmberg
Themes and topics offering special approaches to literature.
Dirty Sexy Money: Studies in American Realism and Naturalism
In the late nineteenth century, nearly all artists recognized that the major cultural, economic, and political changes brought on by the conclusion to the Civil War and the birth of the modern industrial United States would also demand a corresponding change in literary and artistic production. However, although there is little debate that the post-Civil War decades saw an increasingly “realistic” style of art—in contrast, for example, to the idealism of romanticism—defining two of the major genres which appeared during this period—American realism and naturalism—has long proved a difficult task, in no small part because artists of this period had wildly different views of the direction art should take as they approached the twentieth century. In some ways, the texts of these genres have many similarities: a focus on the negative effects of urbanization (the dirty); a fascination with both gender roles and sexual relationships (the sexy); and an emphasis on commodities and consumer culture (the money). At the same time, the goals of these texts and their treatment of these subjects vary greatly, often appearing to hardly be coherent genres at all. The focus of our class, then, will be these two late-nineteenth-century literary movements of American realism and naturalism, with a particular interest in defining and understanding these two genres against their historical and cultural backgrounds, as well as thinking through larger questions about the value of genre classification in the context of literary scholarship.
Our primary authors are likely to include Rebecca Harding Davis, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Jack London, and James Weldon Johnson. In addition to readings covering primarily short stories, novels, and essays, we will also draw on a number of other archival and secondary materials, including music, paintings, and films from the period as well as more recent secondary criticism. Grading will be based on participation in discussion, weekly online discussion board postings, reading quizzes, group presentations and projects, and two essays.
Required Texts: Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills (Bedford; ISBN: 9780312133603) Crane, Stephen. Maggie (Broadview; ISBN: 9781551115979) Norris, Frank. McTeague (Norton Critical Edition; ISBN: 9780393970135) Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth (Broadview; ISBN: 9781551115672) Dreiser, Theodore. Sister Carrie (Norton Critical Edition; ISBN: 9780393927733) Dunbar, Paul Lawrence. The Sport of the Gods (Signet Classics; ISBN 9780451531773) London, Jack. The Sea-Wolf (Oxford; IBSN: 9780199554942) Johnson, James Weldon. Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (Hill and Wang; ISBN: 9780809000326)
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