E 395M • American Literary Realism, 1881-1921
We will survey selected "realist" works from the period during which realism rose to a position of recognized (albeit controversial) prominence in U.S. American literature. We will also read texts from the closely related genres of regionalism ("local color") and naturalism. In exploring this literature, we will interweave historical, political, theoretical, and formal/aesthetic concerns. Questions we consider will derive in part from the interests of seminar members but may include some of the following: What relation does literary realism bear to crises in cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity around the turn of the century? How does race, including whiteness, function in these texts, particularly within the context of the broadly based national reunification project that followed the Civil War? How is realism related to the rise of professionalism? How did realism both respond to and help shape perceptions of the U.S.'s newly burgeoning urban centers, including immigrant populations? How did U.S. realism participate in a transnational literary sphere even as it played a significant role in articulating the United States's national identity at the beginning of a new century? What was literary realism's relationship to other contemporary discourses, including popular culture? What formal devices do author use to establish what Roland Barthes called "reality effects," and what Henry James referred to as the "odor" or "air" of reality? What happens to narration, narrators, and narrative voices during this period? Who decides what counts as the "real" anyway?
Possible authors of primary texts include Rebecca Harding Davis, William Dean Howells, Charles Chesnutt, Abraham Cahan, Kate Chopin, Stephen Crane, Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton), Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, Zitkala-sa (Gertrude Bonnin), and Frank Norris. In addition to the primary works, an electronic (mostly) packet of secondary readings will include essays by critics such as Amy Kaplan, Richard Brodhead, Jennifer Fleissner, Walter Benn Michaels, Toni Morrison, Nancy Bentley, Michael Elliot, and Kenneth Warren, among others.