Early etching of two men in a room

Incest. Seduction. Suicide. Abandonment. Immolation. Cross-dressing. Revolution. For fun, toss in ventriloquism and hauntings. Welcome to the early American novel. Even such a simple welcome raises all sorts of questions: at what point does America become “America”? what role does literature play in that transformation? at what point does America actually begin to develop a literary tradition? and, what makes that tradition recognizably American?

We will set the stage to approach these questions with a series of critical readings and two vital nonfictional early American sources. We will then spend the rest of the semester immersed (reveling, really) in works central to the foundation of America’s novelistic tradition. Our texts offer all of the scandals, spectacles, and tragedies noted above. In many ways, the anxieties of the early American novel parallel the anxious birth of the United States—thus tracing the origins of the American novel will allow us to trace how ideas of the new nation took shape. 

MA-Lit Course Designation: Literature Before 1800, A (Formalisms)/ D (Cultures/Politics/Histories