English and drama

The Nineteenth-Century American Short Story

Module code: Q3271D
Level 5
15 credits in spring teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Not yet finalised

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; and, 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.