LITR 4328 American Renaissance
(a.k.a. the American Romantic Era; 1820s-1860s or generation before US Civil War)
(graduate seminar LITR 5431 American Literature: Romanticism)

Fall 2017 Mondays 7-9:50pm, Bayou 2237

Homepage & Syllabus

terms index

Instructional Materials




Instructor: Craig White   Office: Bayou 2529-8   
: 281 283 3380.       Email:

Office Hours: M 4-7, T 4-7, & by appointment


Dr. White's homepage

Course Policies incl. Attendance; Disabilities Provisions

class music

Attendance policy: You are expected to attend every scheduled class meeting but are permitted one free cut without comment or penalty.

  • More than one absence jeopardizes your status in the course. If you continue to cut or miss, drop the course.

  • Even with medical or other emergency excuses, high numbers of absences or partial absences will result in a lower or failing course grade.




Model Assignments


midterm + research proposal
 (3 Octoberr; 20-30%)

final exam
 (12 December; 30-40%)

research project



Maps of North America

Reading & Presentation Schedule, fall 2017

No Required Textbooks—all texts available online

(If you want an anthology, most but not all selections appear in standard American literature anthologies.)

Monday, 28 August 2017: introduction(s), concept of American Renaissance; Romanticism

Readings: Declaration of Independence (1776); U.S. Constitution (1789)

Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric"    (Whitman style sheet)

Emily Dickinson, [Wild Nights] & [A Bird Came Down the Walk]   (Dickinson style sheet)

Edgar Allan Poe, "Romance"       (Poe Style Sheet)

Questions for poems: What is Romantic or typical of this author's style?

terms: Romanticism, American Renaissance, Maps of North America; formal verse, free verse; lyric poetry

Agenda—2hrs 15mins +

introduction, syllabus, periods & terms

semester assignments; model assignments

historical period

student presentations, preferences + volunteers for 30 August?


Romanticism big, baggy concept, full of contradictions, like us

American Renaissance / Romantic poetry

next week's assignments / presenters?

Discussion Questions:

1. What attitudes, impulses, or images may be called Romantic?

2. Do the things we call "Romantic" have anything in common? Contrast Realism?

3. What is attractive or questionable about Romanticism? How essential is it to literature?

4. Romanticism flowered just as the USA grew and matured as a nation. How much do Romanticism and America have in common?

5. The American Renaissance was produced primarily in the Northeastern United States (New England and New York) nearly 200 years ago by Anglo-Americans and African Americans. We study it today in an increasingly diverse Southwestern United States that blends numerous ethnic and cultural influences. What potential issues does this introduce to classrooms on national literature, and how do we resolve them?

Monday, 4 September: Labor Day HolidayNo class meeting


Monday, 11 September 2017: Terms for Romanticism

Terms: Gothic, Sublime, Romance, Transcendentalism; terms; Romanticism

Reading assignment(s): Transcendentalism: Ralph Waldo Emerson, selections from Nature (1836)

Gothic: Edgar Allan Poe, Ligeia (1839, 1845)     (Poe Style Sheet)

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): Jackie Rodriguez (Emerson); Burgundy Anderson (Poe)

Emily Dickinson, [I felt a funeral in my brain]   (Dickinson style sheet)

poetry reader / discussion leader:  instructor

Web Review / Outside Text: Hudson River School of American Painters  Web Reviewer: instructor (periods)

Agenda:  prsns (non-UHCL emails?), assignments incl. web review

terms; Romanticism > grad seminar + objectives > question 4

Transcendentalism > Emerson: 

Gothic > Poe: 


formal verse & free verse: Dickinson

assignments, Hudson River School

nature as default Romantic setting

Discussion Questions:

1. Identify elements of Romanticism in Emerson's & Poe's texts. If you had to explain these writers or texts as examples of Romanticism, what passages from the texts would you identify? What stylistic qualities or content-themes can be identified in these passages?

(i.e., you'll be doing this on the midterm)

2. How do Poe's and Emerson's versions of Romanticism converge or differ? How are they both still Romanticism?

3. For Romantic style, identify the gothic, the sublime, correspondence, and the romance narrative in both texts.

4. Transcendentalism and the Gothic are two of most recurrent traditions in American Romanticism. How are they both "Romantic" and thus potentially similar? How do they differ from and complement each other?

gothic as dark Romantic setting

Monday, 18 September 2017: early Romantic fiction

Reading assignment(s): Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle & The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Introductory materials + chapters 1-2 of The Last of the Mohicans selections

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): (Rip Van Winkle):  ; (Sleepy Hollow): 

Web Review / Outside Text: The French and Indian War  Web Reviewer:  

poetry: Walt Whitman, "There was a Child Went Forth"    (Whitman style sheet)

poetry reader / discussion leader:

terms: Romantic rhetoric and diction; sentimental stereotypes

Agenda: final exam & lyric poetry; presentation rationale & assignments

Rip Van Winkle discussion: 

Sleepy Hollow discussion: 


Mohicans: discussion > assignments

Historical fiction: French & Indian War: 

poetry: Whitman

Discussion Questions: (overall question): Why do people like these stories or still have some kind of appetite for them?

1. Besides cartoons and movies, how and why does everyone know the stories of Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, even if you've never read them before? (I'm not asking for practical answers but analysis of why these stories remain relevant or memorable to modern America. >)

  • Most people have little idea what Last of the Mohicans is about but may recognize the title—Why? (Nostalgia

2. What about these stories is essentially American and appeals to American readers?

3. Identify the gothic (esp. the wilderness gothic), the sublime, and correspondence in Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow, and Mohicans.

4. Historicism: How do we learn history from fiction, and how does fiction reshape history? (+ historical fiction)

5. Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow are early Romanticism, but also late Classical-Enlightenment, esp. in use of Satire. How is the characterization satirical? Why isn't Romanticism usually funny? How is Last of the Mohicans more purely Romantic than Rip Van Winkle or Sleepy Hollow? (see Periods of Literature)

Monday, 25 September 2017:  Historical Romance

Reading assignment(s): conclude selections from James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (1826)

Mark Twain & D.H. Lawrence on Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales; Guide to Last of the Mohicans & "Leatherstocking Tales"

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): (Twain & Lawrence) 

Instructor reviews: Uncas, Mohegan Sun Casino, The Trail of Tears; William Apess (Pequot), "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man", The Cherokee Memorials; G. W. Harkins (Choctaw), [A Farewell to the American People];

Model Assignments Highlights: 2015 midterm exams (web highlights) Reviewer: instructor

poetry: Edgar Allan Poe, "Sonnet—To Science"   (Poe Style Sheet)

poetry reader / discussion leader:

Agenda: presentations; midterm / research options / proposal & web highlights

Cooper and American Romanticism > reactions to text?

Twain & Lawrence on Cooper: Adrian

gothic wilderness and romantic characters

romance narrative


Web: instructor

Poe poem

Discussion Questions: 1. Written only 6-7 years after Sleepy Hollow & Rip Van Winkle, how is Mohicans more Romantic—less Age of Reason? (The main difference is humor or comedy. Cooper tries to make David Gamut funny like Ichabod, but . . . .) 

2. Identify the gothic (esp. the wilderness gothic) and the sublime, How does Mohicans use the gothic (esp. its color code) to explore American race relations and taboos? How does Mohicans resolve the relationships between the various couples (Cora-Uncas, Heyward-Alice, Hawkeye-Chingachgook) 7.5 [man w/o cross], 16.31; contrast Apess 3, 18; 33.41

3. Romanticism can be dismissed (as Twain does) as fantasy without reality—"anything but the here and now"—but how may Romance explore the unknown as Realism may not? What's socially desirable about escaping or exceeding reality? What are the limits of Realism?

4. American Indian texts: What different realities emerge from alternative texts or voices? What mix of Romantic ideals & real conditions? How do American Indians appear in their own voices or texts compared to how Cooper and other writers romanticize the American Indian?

Monday, 2 October 2017: Women's Domestic Romance

Reading assignment(s): Chapters from Susan B. Warner, The Wide, Wide World (1850) (chapters 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 15)

Chapters from Maria Susanna Cummins, The Lamplighter (1854) (chapters 1 & 2)

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): instructor (more Warner, less Cummins)

Web Review / Outside Text: Classic, Popular, & Representative Literature; sentiment / sentimentality; alternative concepts of the American Renaissance; Second Great Awakening Web Reviewer: instructor

Model Assignments Highlights: 2015 midterm exams (long & short essay samples): 

Agenda: assignments after midterm


midterm samples: instructor

Romanticism & religion

teaching religion and literature

history: the Great Awakening

Literary styles or periods: Romanticism and Realism

objectives; American Renaissance; classic, pop, rep lit


Text discussion: instructor

discussion questions 

Discussion Questions: Overall question: How are Romanticism and religion compatibleor not?

1. Identify Romantic themes and the romance narrative in Wide, Wide World and Lamplighter.

2. The Wide, Wide World (1850) was the USA's best-selling novel until Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-2); The Lamplighter sold even more. How do today's texts resemble popular and classic literature then and now? What are these texts' critical strengths and weaknesses? What pro's or cons for studying historic popular literature?

2a. Evaluate sentiment or sentimentality—what reactions to scenes of tears? everyday life?

3. If you've read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678), how does Wide, Wide World resemble it—not only as evangelical Christianity but as a romance?

4. Evaluate the evangelical content of both texts. How to teach such texts in a public university? What pro's & cons to treating as literature or history? (e.g., The Second Great Awakening) What values compatible with or contrary to Romanticism may conversion or evangelism emphasize?

5. Together with religious obedience and self-control, how does the novel also indirectly represent Romantic rebellion and passion? (Compare Jane Eyre.)

Monday9 October 2017: midterm exam & research proposal (email midterms due by midnight 5 October)

Monday, 16 October 2017: Poe Poetry & Stories

Reading assignment(s): Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher; William Wilson; selections from The Philosophy of Composition; The Raven

Poe Style Sheet (includes biographical information)

terms: Byronic hero, biographical fallacy, gothic, sublime, formal verse, romance, desire & loss

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s):   (Raven);   (Usher)

Web Review / Outside Text
: Eric Wilson, "Science of Rubbernecking" (2012); review of "Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul" Exhibition at Morgan Library  Reviewer

Romantic music

Agenda: assignments, midterms, research proposals

classic, popular, representative writers / literature

Poe, the Raven:

Romantic music + Peer Gynt suite


web review: on Poe exhibit, Rubbernecking: Burgundy

Poe, House of Usher: 

William Wilson 

Discussion Questions: (Poe's biographical information at Poe Style Sheet)

Overall discussion: How does Poe stand as the USA's "most Romantic author" in terms of style, persona, subject matter, & various Romantic attributes? (specific terms & questions below)

1. In light of how un-Romantic Poe's life was, how and why do we romanticize his image? Compare the Byronic Hero.

2. Identify the Romance narrative: Desire and loss or love and loss in Poe's life and writings

3. How is Poe's gothic classic-European + psychological? (compare / contrast "wilderness gothic" in Sleepy Hollow, Mohicans) House 1,2, 4, 7, 17, 24; Wilson 4, 9, 11, 24-5     

4. How is "Twinning" (e.g. William Wilson) both gothic + psychological? (cf. doppelganger) House 25, 35, 38, Wilson 15 but 28; Man 13, 17   

5. Style: How / why may Poe's poetry and prose be regarded as "musical?" (see Poe Style Sheet)

6. Is Poe a Classic, Popular, or Representative author? Poe entertains, but what can you learn from him? (Art's purpose to entertain & instruct)

11-15 October: First Research Post Due (optional) (research post assignment)

Monday, 23 October 2017: Hawthorne: Puritan Gothic

Reading assignment(s): Hawthorne, The Minister's Black Veil; Young Goodman Brown

Hawthorne Style Sheet; variations on the gothic

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): instructor (Minister's Black Veil);   (Goodman Brown)

Emily Dickinson, [Dare you see a soul at the White Heat?]  (Dickinson Style Sheet)

poetry reader / discussion leader: instructor

Model Assignments Highlights: 2015 research submissions

Agenda: midterms, research >  spelling, more clear

research > research models: 

final exam: variations on the gothic + Q1

William Wilson

Minister's Black Veil: instructor  (original sin)



Young Goodman Brown: 

poetry: comparing Poe, Dickinson, Whitman

Dickinson poem

Discussion Questions:

1. How do Hawthorne's style and content make him a "classic" author? What aspects make him almost popular? (see Hawthorne Style Sheet)

2. Compare / Contrast to Poe as gothic. How do the two authors use the style differently for different purposes?

3. How does Puritanism conform to a gothic treatment? Besides standard gothic paraphernalia (color code, secrets, past, crime / sin, death / decay), how does Hawthorne elevate the gothic to classic uses?

4. The sentimental / domestic genres (like Wide, Wide World & Lamplighter) usually don't do much gothic. How does Hawthorne combine the sentimental / domestic with the gothic? 

5. "Young Goodman Brown" is widely taught, but the text's ethical or moral meaning is confusing because of Hawthorne's irony and ambiguity. Goodman seems to do the right thing by refusing to identify with sin and Satan, but the consequences of his choice are disastrous. What to do with such an outcome for "just say no?"

  • historical referent: Puritan belief in original sin as common human nature.

  • compare to "Minister's Black Veil"

Monday,  30 October 2017: The antebellum Women's Movement

Reading assignment(s): Margaret Fuller, The Great Lawsuit

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Declaration of Sentiments

Sojourner Truth, Ain't I a Woman? (Speech to the Women's Rights Convention)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl"

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): (Fuller &/or Stanton)  ; (Truth & Stowe) 

terms: Transcendentalism; meritocracy


Dickinson poem

Research project due 1 month; MLA

Stanton &/or Truth:


Fuller discussion:


Discussion Questions: 1. How do today's writers qualify as Romantic figures—or not? What is Romantic (or not) about their personal styles, their writing styles, or their subjects?

2. How surprising is it to find a women's rights movement in antebellum USA? Note convergences of the women's movement with anti-slavery (Abolition) movement. How are these movements conceivably Romantic? Or another way, how do they anticipate or follow the Romance narrative?

3. How can the romance narrative conform to the USA's national narrative of equality, liberty, progress? (Compare Declaration of Independence & U.S. Constitution.)

Specific questions for authors:

Margaret Fuller: How does Fuller use or vary the Transcendental style or themes developed by Emerson for gender analysis and women's equality? How does her style (content & technique) resemble Emerson and Thoreau but also differ from them?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Compare / contrast The Declaration of Sentiments with the Declaration of Independence .

Sojourner Truth was a unique and charismatic historical figure. What difference does her illiteracy make for literary studies? Why do students always seem to want more of her? (Compare to Poe?)

Monday, 6 November 2017: Slave Narratives: Romance & Reality

Reading assignment(s): Frederick Douglass, A Narrative of the Life (1845)   (Douglass author page)

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

terms: slave narrative; representative literature; Harlem Renaissance video: Twelve Years a Slave (2013 film trailer)

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): (Douglass)  ; (Jacobs) 

poetry: Langston Hughes, "Dream Variations" & Countee Cullen, "From the Dark Tower"  (Discussion questions)

poetry reader / discussion leader: instructor

Agenda: Overall course objective; Declaration & its Echoes



Romantic form: individual in nature 10B



color code; Gates 2; Douglass 1.4, 2.4, Jacobs 1.5


Discussion Questions: 1. How do antebellum history and Romantic form meet in the slave narratives? (Objectives 2 & 1)

1a. Unlike a Poe story, slavery really happened as history, but slave narratives also became popular literature. Why? What’s inherently “Romantic” about the slave narrative? How does its structure or sequence resemble the romance narrative? (Sometimes Douglass is even classified as a Transcendentalist--Why?)

1b. What's not Romantic? At what points does historical Realism contradict Romanticism or disrupt the romance narrative?

2. Both authors, esp. Douglass, stress significance of literacy—what is the role of language in enabling outsiders into a culture? (Another meeting of literary form and history?) Compare contrast with Sojourner Truth?

3. How to discuss slavery, especially in a Confederate state like Texas? (standard defensive Anglo responses: "That was a long time ago." "We wouldn't have done that." "That's all fixed now." Analyze & criticize!)

4. Back to history and Romantic form, how does Jacobs's narrative resemble a novel in its use of sentiment, domesticity, even the gothic?

5. How do people of color challenge Western Civilization's color code? (cf. Stowe, "Sojourner Truth", 39)



Monday, 13 November 2017: Civil Disobedience & Old-Time Religion

Reading assignment(s): Henry David Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government (1849)

Juan Nepomuceno Seguin, Personal Memoirs [relating to Texas Independence & Mexican-American War]

Emerson, Thoreau

George Whitefield, sermon excerpts  (The 2nd Great Awakening)

Instructor reviews: Transcendentalism, Unitarianism, civil disobedience tradition(s)

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s): (Thoreau & Emerson) instructor

Web Review / Outside Text: Mexican-American War  Web Reviewer: instructor

poetry: Edgar Allan Poe, "Annabel Lee" (ballad)   poetry reader / discussion leader: instructor (recording)

Agenda: Research dates; schedule, assignments

2nd Great Awakening > Stowe > Whitefield (Romanticism)

Thoreau: Transcendentalism, Romanticism


Mex-Am War 

Seguin as representative literature ?

Final exam & Poe poem; comparing Poe, Dickinson, Whitman


Background: Thoreau is best known as one of the major Transcendentalists and for living by himself in nature for a year and writing Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854).

Discussion Questions: 1. how does his essay exemplify familiar forms of Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and the romance narrative? Where do Transcendentalism and Romanticism overlap or separate? (Venn Diagram)

1a. If Thoreau is a Transcendentalist, how does "Resistance to Civil Government" advocating abolition of slavery and civil disobedience challenge or expand our ideas of Thoreau and of Transcendentalism? On the other hand,

2. How does Emerson's eulogy Thoreau romanticize its subject? What are the charms and costs of heroic individualism?

2a. How much has Thoreau, like Poe or Emily Dickinson, become something like a fictional character in the study of American literature whom literary types embrace, imitate, or reject? What is the nature or style of this character? What picture of Transcendentalism develops through Thoreau?

3. George Whitefield: After the secularism of the Founding Fathers (e.g. The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment), the Second Great Awakening re-energized popular evangelical Christianity in the USA. How is Whitefield's sermon potentially Romantic? Where does it connect with sentimental, domestic, or other Romantic literature? (cf. Wide, Wide World and The Lamplighter & preview Uncle Tom's Cabin)

4. How do Seguin's Memoirs qualify as representative literature? That is, Mexican American literature barely appears in normal American Renaissance studies, even though the Mexican-American War took place during this time. How may Seguin's Memoirs be included (or not) as part of classic American literature or as a Mexican American statement of identity at the time?


Monday, 20 November 2017: Stowe & Uncle Tom's Cabin

Reading assignment(s): Harriet Beecher Stowe, selections from Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-2)

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s):

Web Review / Outside Text: Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture: a multi-media archive  Web Reviewer: (volunteer?)

Web Review / Outside Text: Reminiscences of Levi Coffin on The Quaker Page Web Reviewer:

Instructor reviews: Beecher family, sentimentality, civil disobedience; Religion in North America

Agenda: Classic, Popular, and Representative Literature; final exam (C4)

schedule, assignments

Uncle Tom's Cabin discussion:

UTC website:  (+ anti-Tom texts)

civil disobedience: Thoreau > Levi Coffin: 

North Star as symbol?

Discussion Questions: 1. In our discussions of Classic, Popular, and Representative Literature in the American Renaissance, observe how a remarkable history-making fiction like Uncle Tom's Cabin may fulfill all three types or appeals at once. How is Uncle Tom's Cabin Classic, Popular, and Representative, all at once, more or less? How may this account for the extraordinary impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin?  (Essay option C4 on final exam)

1a. As far as "represening" African America, Uncle Tom's Cabin was and remains controversial for its representation of African Americans, especially as "sentimental stereotypes."

2. How did Stowe become (in Lincoln's words) "the little lady who started this big war"? (i.e., the Civil War) What strategies does she use to make white readers sympathize or care? What does fiction achieve that the slave narratives did not? (For example, her absorption of historical materials like slave narratives or Levi Coffin's Reminiscences.)

3. How does Uncle Tom's Cabin combine domestic sentimentality (e.g., Wide, Wide World; Lamplighter) with political activism, particularly as civil disobedience? (Look for examples of civil disobedience in the slaves' activities relative to cruel masters.)

4. How might Stowe's appeal be both Transcendental and Evangelical? How might her style be both Romantic and Realistic?

5. If slavery is a sensitive subject, what about slavery + sexuality in the mid-1800s? How does Stowe manage the sexual nature of slavery for women like Eliza, Cassy, & Emmeline? Compare to Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. How do these writers find ways to speak the unspeakable or shameful?


Monday, 4 December 2017:  Lincoln, Alcott, Whitman

Reading assignment(s): Abraham Lincoln, The House Divided Speech; The Gettysburg Address; The 2nd Inaugural Address

Hawthorne on Lincoln; Emerson on Lincoln; Frederick Douglass, descriptions of Lincoln from Life & Times of Frederick Douglass; Frederick Douglass, speech on Lincoln

Louisa May Alcott, from Hospital Sketches (1863)

Amendments 13-15 of the U.S. Constitution

text reader(s) / discussion leader(s)

Web Review / Outside Text: U.S. Civil War Casualties leader:

poetry: Whitman, "The Wound-Dresser"  (Whitman style sheet)   comparing Poe, Dickinson, Whitman

poetry reader / discussion leader: instructor

Agenda: research schedule, assignments, final exam

periods: Romanticism & Realism

today's texts: (continue after break?)


on casualties


young Lincoln

Overview & Overall Question: Our next-to-last class is our most historical day, climaxing in the Civil War. The American Renaissance in literature coincides with the USA's antebellum decades. What are the advantages and risks of reading literature in relation to history? What is gained or lost? (question option C3 on Final Exam) Specifically, can we imagine reading and discussing Amendments 13-15 of the U.S. Constitution as literature? What is gained or lost by doing so?

Discussion Questions for today's readings:

1. Writings about Lincoln: Recall popular images of Lincoln as "log cabin president," "Great Emancipator," and (with Thomas Jefferson) the best writer among U.S. Presidents: How do today's writings on Lincoln by Hawthorne, Emerson, Douglass reinforce, change, or extend this image? How does Lincoln begin to resemble a literary character or a religious / mythical figure?

Lincoln's writings: 2. What qualities of American Romanticism and the American Renaissance do Lincoln’s writings combine?

2a. As a political speaker, what figures of speech or rhetorical devices does Lincoln use that are comparable to those in literary texts? Consider extended metaphor, allusion, anaphora / parallelism, catalog. How does Lincoln sound biblical without violating separation of church and state?

2b. Previewing question C2 on Final Exam, what kind of morality does Lincoln espouse or represent? How does Lincoln write (or speak) morally but not divisively? In what ways may Lincoln's writings appear as "American scripture?"

Alcott memoir & Whitman poem: The American Civil War was among the first modern wars involving industrial firearms and massive military and civilian destruction, creating an enormous humanitarian crisis involving nearly a million casualties—

3. Compare to Thoreau and slavery / abolition: how do conscientious individuals respond?

4. In what ways is Alcott a Romantic or Transcendental author, and how or where is she Realistic? Note use of domesticity & sentiment. How are these qualities changed with patriotism? Also Alcott shows far more wit & humor or comedy than earlier Transcendentalists and Romantics—how? (Clue: relate to Realism) (Question C5 on final exam)

Louisa May Alcott

Monday, 5 November 2017: Life in the Iron Mills: Realism or Romanticism?

Reading assignment(s): Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861)

Text reader(s) / discussion leader(s)instructor

Instructor reviews: periods of literature; Realism

Poetry: Emily Dickinson, [A light exists in spring]    (Dickinson Style Sheet): instructor

Model Assignments Highlights: 2015 final exams:

Agenda: final exam


periods: Romanticism & Realism

Iron Mills discussion

[break & evaluations]

Dickinson poem


Discussion Questions: 1. Identify the gothic adapting to an industrial site! What other American Renaissance or Romantic styles appear? Consider: Transcendentalism, Evangelical Christianity? (Final exam question C1)

2. After the Civil War, Romantic literary styles and subjects were succeeded by Realism. How does Life in the Iron Mills seem Realistic, and how does it cling to Romanticism?  (Final exam question C5)

3. What are the different appeals of Romanticism and Realism? How do the two styles respond to different historical contexts?

category / comparison Romanticism Realism

historical period & political economics:

1820-60; "Era of the Common Man";  Abolition; early women's movement

1865-1910; Industrialization, Urbanization, Inequality (Gilded Age); Reconstruction and Reaction
human form: heroic individualism social classes

human motivation:

honor, love, nobility, ideals

greed, lust, survival of fittest, luck of the draw


sublime frontier or gothic past

growing cities; class limits

literary styles:

repressed labor; elevated language
(Romantic rhetoric)

dirty details,
local dialects

Rebecca Harding Davis

Monday,  11 December 2017: final exam (email exams due by 11:59 Wednesday 13)


Course Objectives:

Unifying purpose: form = content

Unite literary forms (style, genre, narrative, symbols, etc.) with . . .

 content (literary & cultural history, periods, texts, authors); compare purpose of literature to entertain & inform.

Examples (many other possibilities):

Gothic = form or style + psychology (Poe, Hawthorne) or color code for race (Mohicans) (or reversal [Harlem Renaissance])

Romance narrative (form) as plot for individual desire, social progress, and nostalgia for loss

Transcendentalism as intellectual idealism (incl. forms of ascendance ) + social reform (women's rights, abolition, etc.)


Objective 1: Romantic terms and forms (term = word; form may find many words or elude language)

1a. Romanticism: desire & loss, rebellion, nostalgia, idealism, the gothic, the sublime, the individual in nature or separate from the masses; correspondence; symbol; metaphor, pastoral

1b. Romance narrative: quest / journey across physical, social, psychological boundaries to gain or regain transcendent dream.

1c. Romantic heroic individual: often formulaic but noble, fresh, and winning (or tragic); too good for this world or not for this world; innocent of anything but readiness to change or desire to re-invent the self or world; fair lady / dark lady or golden boy / Byronic hero

1d. Romantic genres:


Objective 2: History of Romanticism esp. in USA + American culture as Romanticism

Romanticism is an international artistic and cultural movement involving music, literature, painting, sculpture, dance, politics.

Dates: Romantic period in Europe: late 1700s-mid 1800s

USA’s Romantic period = the American Renaissance" of 1820s-1860s—the generation before the Civil War

Music: Beethoven, Wagner, Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, more

Politics: Napoleon, Lincoln, Daniel Webster, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, more

Romanticism accompanies Western Europe's and the USA's “great transformation” of mass modern culture:

  • population grows, moves from farms to cities

  • nutrition, hygiene improve > lower infant mortality, longer life spans

  • industrialization > rise of middle class consumer culture

  • industrial presses (steam-powered) provide new reading materials
    (print literacy then may resemble computer literacy now)

  • improved communications (esp. telegraphs)

  • increased schooling > rising literacy

  • improved transportation & communication >
    growing awareness of other cultures, evolutionary nature, astronomy, geology,

  • new technologies: medicine, photography, steam power, fossil fuels

  • culture wars: traditional authority vs. modern knowledge

  • reaction: 2nd Great Awakening, Millennialism

2a. Modern USA and Romanticism co-emerge and converge formally and historically. Individualism, rebellion, equality, and a sentimental love of nature may be identified with either “America” or “Romanticism.”

2b. Literature as symbolic code for problems and values of American culture: freedom, equality (race, gender, class); modernization and tradition; individualism, family values, community / nation; nature. 

Historical terms or movements associated with American Romanticism or the American Renaissance:


Objective 3: Course methods / pedagogy

teaching emphases literary theory

Student leadership

Critical thinking (periods, styles: evolution, comparison of categories)

Writing instruction: unity / transition

classic, popular, and representative literature

Language makes history.

Literature as entertainment + improvement, escape + engagement

"close reading"

"Historicism": interpreting the past in terms of the present, & vice versa

dialogue and dialectic

Period studies—how texts fit contemporary styles and subjects but also may appear timeless

Literature both reflects and models cultural changes

M.M. Bakhtin, theory of the novel

Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author"

Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?"

biographical fallacy