The Nineteenth-Century American Short Story (Q3271)

15 credits, Level 5

Spring teaching

This module will be an in-depth examination of the nineteenth-century American short story. In the wake of Washington Irving’s influential 1820-1 The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., writers such as Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville quickly developed the short story into a potent and enduring American literary form.

In addition to these writers, we will read a wide range of authors who used the genre:

  • to creatively examine the nation’s colonial past and to articulate new possibilities for American individual and collective identity
  • to question the often violent exclusion of women, African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants from public life
  • to end slavery and improve working conditions
  • to describe the alienation of urban and frontier life
  • to confront the demands of industrialization and mass culture
  • to orient themselves within intellectual terrain shaken by new movements in philosophy, religion and science.

At the same time, we will pay close attention to how these writers cultivated the art of the short story itself. They undertook bold stylistic experiments in narrative form, characterization, and tone, accented their work with words from foreign languages or regional dialects, wrote with journalistic clarity or created densely allusive arabesques. They often became the sharpest theoreticians and critics of the genre in their essays and reviews. In short, whether these writers sought to educate their readers concerning social inequities, to horrify or to titillate them, they opened new, dynamic possibilities for the short story within a growing nation and an emerging literary marketplace.


100%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is 150 hours of work. This breaks down into 24 hours of contact time and 126 hours of independent study.

This module is running in the academic year 2017/18. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. It may become unavailable due to staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of such changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: