LITR 5535: American Romanticism

Sample Student Research Proposals, fall 2000

Stacey Burleson

Dr. White,

I was actually thinking about two different topics. Can you give me feedback on both?

Twinning as an element of gothicism and how it affects American Romanticism. What is the difference between the use of male/male, female/female, or female/male in the concept of twinning. The primary texts I was planning to use is "William Wilson," "Ligeia," and "The Fall of the House of Usher." My interest in the matter evolved when re-reading Poe. When I first read Poe, I thought he was amazing. Now re-reading his works, some of his writing does seem overdone and satiric and I wanted to do more work on Poe. I hope through research I will understand his writing better and understand if he is purposely overdoing things in his writing or it he is serious about his overuse of gothic elements in his works. I have done some research on Poe. I have started reading "William Wilson" and some other critical writings on Poe. The concept of twinning is a beginning in the research process. Do you think this topic is broad enough to build the essay around?

The other research topic I was thinking about is something else brought up in class. What is the difference between American Romanticism and the Modern Historical Romance. Why is the Modern Historical Romance so popular and what needs does it fufill. Why does History and Romance appeal to a certain group of women? I'm still thinking of possible primary texts to use for this research proposal. I haven't done any research on the subject yet, but I find it fascinating that the historical romance as a genre is so popular. Do you think it is possible to find enough research on the subject? Could an early American Romantic Literature piece be compared to a modern Historical Romantic and the elements compared? I think there are qualities probably similar in both as everyone these days are "riding off into the sunset" or "living happily ever after," whether it be in the movies or some popular fiction.

Thank you,

Stacey M. Burleson

 

Dear Stacey,

Haven't read your midterm yet, and many await, so pardon if this is brief. Both topics seem appropriate for the course. For the Poe topic, a problem may be to resolve the twinning angle with the question of whether he's serious or satiric about the Gothic--or choose one angle and forget the other. You might do some research on twins in psychology. Memory may be tricking me, but maybe Plato has something about us all searching for a twin, or maybe it's in the fashion of a soul-mate. Keep the term "doppelganger" in mind and look up the term in some handbooks of literary terms. For whether Poe's serious or satirical, all I really know is what I read in the intro in our anthology. Ultimately I consider the question irresolvable, given Poe's own curious statement on the issue, but that doesn't mean that more research wouldn't be rewarding. I'm sure a quick MLA search on Poe and satire would come up with some materials.

For the romance topic, I can't find the book I want to recommend, but I think it's by Janice Radway (or something like) and the first part of the title is Reading the Romance. She mostly studies readers of Harlequin or Silhouette Romances, but it could give you a model of this kind of popular literary criticism. Also, do you know Donna Maloy, who finished her MA in LITR this summer? She works here at the university, has written some historical romances, and knows a lot about the genre. You could compare / contrast a "popular" historical romance (sometimes risibly referred to as "the sword and bosom" genre) with a "literary" romance like Scarlet Letter, but that's just a suggestion.

Well, this is just a start, but you're just starting, so why not inquire again as you begin to resolve? The standard advice is to "follow your nose." That is, what do you find yourself thinking about the most, wanting to know the most. All three are worth knowing, but which one solves a real question you have about literature?

Regards,

Craig White

 

Response from Stacey, 7 Oct.

I decided to go with Poe and the idea of twinning for my research paper, but I will email you more in-depth on what research I have done.

 

Kimberly Jones

29 September 2000

Dr. White,

. . . I want to get your feedback on the direction I want to go with my next essay. This isn't my final proposal. I want to see if I am completely off base before I give you more of a formal version.

            I read a quote the other day on Gothic literature that stated, "By 1815, the Gothic novel had come full circle, from rebellion to the Age of Reasons order, to its encompassing and incorporation of Reason as derived from terror". I find the link between "Reason" and "terror" to be an interesting one. I have always viewed literature surrounding the supernatural and the Gothic to be purely for effect and entertainment. I have never thought of them in terms of reflecting on or exploring issues of God, humanity, or truths. I know that I would need to refine this idea, but I would like to explore this notion if you think it is something on which I can expand. I find Gothic literature to be extremely interesting due to the fact that that there are sometimes characters introduced with whom the reader can sympathize, despite the fact that the atmosphere, setting, and situation is completely foreign to any reader. It is also interesting that there is something so "human" about characters that are portrayed as completely sinister and distorted in many texts. Gothic literature seems to play on the senses in a way that is difficult to articulate. The text leads the reader into dark places or states of mind that the reader does not necessarly want to go. Apprehension and a feelings of anxiousness compels the reader to continue through a Gothic text. I find it completely fascinating that a reader's senses are heightened and feelings are evoked by events that are not familiar to the reader at all.

I apologize if this seems to be turning into a "stream of consciousness" writing; I just want to attempt to explain why I want to explore this area. I think it would also be interesting to research the readership of Gothic literature. I don't really know how I would go about doing that since one of the only really well-known, present day writers of the Gothic is Anne Rice. If you have any direction on that, I would appreciate it!

Once I refine my topic and thesis, I think that I might use works of Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (maybe), and also a text by Ann Radcliffe.

Please let me know if this is way off the mark.

Thanks!

Kimberly

Dear Kim,

Your interest in the intellectual or metaphysical groundings of the gothic is a good reason to pursue the subject. One source I've read that deals well (if briefly) with the subject is Leslie Fiedler's great study, Love and Death in the American Novel. Check its first chapter or so for backgrounds on the gothic--at one point he nicely summarizes its reaction to the age of Enlightenment, and he makes some cute comment about how, after the Enlightenment had killed off God (at least as an actor in the natural world), the devil outlived Him for at least a generation in the Gothic. UHCL library should have plenty of copies of Fiedler's book, which is from the 1950s or early 60s.

The quotation you sent, about reason being derived from terror, is intriguing. I'm skeptical, but only because I haven't thought of it before. Your inclination to follow sympathetic characters (or characterizations) sounds right. Frequently the exhumation of the gothic secret does "set things right" and return order and reason. As at the end of Mary Rowlandson, however, there's ever after a fear, even among the enlightened, of things that go bump in the night.

About your texts, I'd only warn you not to use too many. Try focusing on one or two. Otherwise, if you cover too much ground, you cover it only superficially. However, you can introduce your topic and do a brief survey of its appearance in a variety of texts before zeroing in on one or two texts that exemplify it to especially high purpose. I haven't read Anne Rice, but from what I've read about her, the characterization of the central vampire (LeGare?--something like that?) exposes him as something of a reasonable character within his fate. Similarly Roderick Usher behaves somewhat rationally.

Well, I'll say no more till you've proceeded, but you're thinking well on the subject so far.

Craig White

 

Dr. White,

I thought that I would go in a different direction with my essay, but I seem to have come back to where I started. So I will just build on my orginal proposal idea that I sent to you. We have touched on both the idea of the sublime and the Gothic this semester, and I would like to further explore how these two subjects are interrelated. Gothic literature evokes a sense of terror in the reader, and I feel that this crosses over into the realm of the sublime since the feeling of terror often transcends verbal articulation. It is intangible; you can't define it. Authors such as Emerson and Jonathon Edwards attempt to evoke a feeling of transcendence in their readers/listeners from being "rapt up" in the Power of nature and religion. In contrast, Poe and Hawthorne achieve a sense of transcendence in the reader on a completely different psychological realm. I came across a quote in a critical text that states, "The Gothic novel was able to raise terror and intensity of the sublime so much that it became, in effect, a metasublime, participating not just is aesthetic debate but commenting on the intellectual and metaphysical contexts of that debate." I would like to explore this idea further in a thesis driven essay by analyzing certain texts by Hawthorne and Poe. I hope that by choosing these authors that I am not being too obvious, but other authors that would work well with this topic are mainly English, which seemed a little out of the scope of the theme of American Romanticism. I thought about this after I originally stated I might refer to a text by Mary Shelley in my first essay proposal. At any rate, Poe and Hawthorne seem to be the best choices from American authors to focus on in this essay.

My main focus of this essay will be to exhibit that the Romantic idea of sublimity is present in the texts of Poe and Hawthorne through a translation into a Gothic atmosphere, evoking feelings in the reader of terror, transcendence, and dominance of a supernatural presence.

As for critical references, I am still trying to locate them. I have found a few references on the Gothic genre, and Leslie Fiedler's text also has a relevant chapter on Poe and the development of Gothic literature.

I am still not quite sure if my essay theme and topic fits into a larger social context and that I am writing about something in which people can find relevant subject matter. Do you think this is enough to begin?

Thanks,

Kimberly Jones

Dear Kim,

Everything you say makes sense, so don't be too concerned whether you're touching all the possible angles I raised in the assignment. As much as anything, all those pointers just try to stir up some ideas in folks who are at a loss. So far you're not at a loss, so press on. Besides, considerations of language--especially of the sublime as something beyond language but must nonetheless be expressed as far as possible in language or not at all--are always relevant. Another text that comes to mind is William James's discussion of mysticism in The Varieties of Religious Experience. (He was Henry James's brother; the book was published about 100 years ago, maybe a little less.) His discussion has something about mystical experience being beyond language plus maybe something about the need to express it anyway.

Some consideration of British authors isn't taboo. Only the larger point of the essay should point toward American developments in Romanticism.

My only quibble--though it may be gotten over--is whether to discuss the sublime effects of the gothic in terms of transcendence. I guess I don't feel as though chills and thrills send one upward so much as somewhere else, but I'm not sure. Anyway, the problem I'm describing is that "transcendence" is in some sense a metaphor involving an upward motion, and as a stylist you want to make sure that metaphor is consistent with what you're describing in the gothic. Your choices are either to defend the gothic sublime as transcendent by defining it so that it works that way, or considering another term or metaphor for the effect of the gothic sublime.

 

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Jane Ftacnik

29 September 2000

Hi Dr. White,

(This is tentative.)

            I would like to explore the idea of the sublime and how it is related to the evil side of American Romanticism. For example, I planned to use Poe, and to show that he achieves the sublime in his descriptions throughout "Ligeia" and "Fall of the House of Usher." Also, Hawthorne shows some evidence of the dark side of American Romanticism with "Minister's Black Veil." With Cooper, I planned to use the character of Magua. And, I may use Irving in addition to those mentioned above.

            I went to the library, and I gathered some general information about the authors above and also American Romanticism. It was somewhat helpful, as there were bibliographies to refer to more criticism about the literature. I will search for more criticism regarding the texts and the idea of terror and beauty mixed together. I plan to probe the idea of what makes us turn the pages when we read what appears to be horrible, but really is pleasurable. I suppose this may lead into some psychological analysis.

Thanks,

Jane

1 October 2000

Dear Jane,

So far, so good. You might search our library's holdings on gothicism in American literature, as I've ordered several new books in that area over the last few years. See if they discuss the sublime in relation to the gothic. I'm especially intrigued that the gothic may have its own form of sublime, in which the pain is emphasized for the sake of an edging of pleasure, in contrast to the "open-air" sublime, which is generally pleasure tinged with pain.

Check in again as you like.

Craig White

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Paul Campbell

29 September 2000

Dr. White,

I am having trouble coming up with an interesting topic for my research paper. I am thinking about doing something about Poe because I am a big fan of his stories. I can't think of anything interesting to do, however.

I was thinking about possibly researching the topic of how his romantic gothic writing is connected to modern horror genre films (he seems to have influenced everyone making good horror movies). Can you help me develop something around this subject? Can you also help me by suggesting resources to use.

 

29 September

Dear Paul,

You're very welcome to read Poe and modern horror films. I'm intrigued by the possibility that he may have influenced them, but I'm skeptical that he and they are all just operating within gothic conventions. Can we identify modern horror films' materials as deriving from Poe instead of just being more gothicism? I'd have to give it a lot more thought, but then you may well know modern horror films much better than I do, so, if you're on to something that connects directly to Poe, tell me more.

I have one other suggestion along these lines, but it jerks you from your generation to mine. In the 1950s and 60s Roger Corman and a number of other Hollywood B-movie directors adapted a number of Poe stories to films. Most of them are pretty bad, but a few, like The Pit and the Pendulum and Tales of Terror and also The Conquering Worm (on Ligeia) are at least kind of stylish--the American equivalent of the stylish British Hammer-studio films that were being produced around the same time. Anyway, if you want to do Poe and Horror films, there's a definite connection.

On the other hand, if you want to do newer (and maybe better) horror films, you could consider not emphasizing Poe as much as the gothic in general. One gothic development I found interesting was the Nightmare on Elm Street series. I never saw any of them, but from what I understand there was an interesting physical / psychological correspondence between the street's sewers and the teenagers' dreams, sort of like Poe's castles and his tortured mind. But since I didn't see the movies, I may be making this up. Anyway, some examination of how current horror films continue to develop the gothic (and in some cases make it new) would be a real possibility. But this is just a suggestion for you to run with or not or branch off from.

P. S. I've ordered a number of new books for the library regarding the gothic, including one that may be helpful on the film topic we discussed. To find these books in general, you might do a subject search of "gothic." The book I'm remembering has a title like "Nightmare on Main Street," and concerns the absorption of the gothic into American popular culture, I think. (I still haven't read it, but ordered it for reasons like this.)

Craig White

29 September

I like the Nightmare on Elm street connection. I think that is very fertile

ground for American gothic. Thanks for the information.

 

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Sheshe Giddens

Essay Proposal

Discuss and examine opposing dimensions of American Romanticism in terms of its social, political and cultural context. This dichotomy is reflected in the philosophical and indulgent nature of works such as Nature and Walden and the opposing reflective social commentary of Uncle Tomís Cabin, the slave narratives and social philosophical writings such as "Resistance to Civil Government." I am not a great fan of Transcendentalism and I am hoping to gain a better understanding of its relevance in my research. I view Transcendentalism as a indulgent undertaking by individuals who seem oblivious to the social and ideological struggles (esp. dealing with race and gender) of the nineteenth century that would later transform America.

Sheshe Giddens

 

Dear Sheshe,

Your goal of comprehending transcendentalism sounds like a good base or "problem" to work from. I mean "problem" first in the way that it's good to have an itch to scratch in developing a topic. Second, I mean that you're on to a standard problem for Transcendentalism: was it just lofty and escapist (or, as you say, "indulgent") ponderings by an elite group who don't want to be bothered, or did it in some way engage with the larger social scene.

Thoreau is the most interesting figure in this regard, as we'll see over the next few weeks--how does the same author write Walden and Civil Disobedience? You could stay with just Thoreau. That is, my only misgiving as I started your proposal was that it sounded a little like an exam question in the way it "surveys" a number of big writers, which may threaten superficiality. On the other hand, all of these authors raise interesting issues. Stowe, for instance, wasn't considered a Transcendentalist (you may already know this, but I wasn't sure from what you wrote). In fact, her family, headed by the great evangelist Lyman Beecher, diverged from the Unitarianism that gave rise to the Transcendentalists. You could conceivably contrast the careers and writings of Stowe and Emerson.

Anyway, all you've written so far has the essential element of interest, so continue, and try to zero in on a smaller portion of the topic. (Probably two writers would be maximal. However, if you organize tightly, three would be possible, so just consult or advise as you proceed.)

Thanks for staying with the question--I enjoyed the discussion that rose from it last week.

Craig White

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Lathon Lewis

5 October 2000

I wanted to deal with the (romantic)individual and his relationship to nature. I was thinking of a comparative paper between Hawk-eye and Cormac McCarthy's protagonist from All the Pretty Horses dealing with "Romantic Spirit"--touching on desire and nostalgia especially. Also, critiquing that romantic character in his given place in history. At this point, I am leading towards having my Master's Thesis deal with nostalgia in post-modern America and hope to have to be moving in that direction with this semester's term paper. I am very early in the research process, mostly, there are just ideas floating around in my head.

I was wondering if post-Romantic was an "official" term and if so what would it be? The pointing out of any critical texts would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Lathon Lewis

 

5 Oct.

Dear Lathon,

The topic sounds good so far, and worthy of a thesis. Not to pile books on you, but probably the ideal Cooper novel would be The Prairie (1827), which immediately follows Mohicans and finds "the scout" (as Hawk-eye is now known) on a journey somewhat like that (I think) in Pretty Horses. But there's bound to be plenty in Mohicans (and our excerpt from Pioneers) for you to work with, so stay there if you like. For "nostalgia" and "post-romantic" you might start with an MLA search for articles that use the words and work backward from them to find theoretical sources. Especially the latter seems tossed about casually--I used it just 10 minutes ago in my early American lit class--as a kind of selective or spectatorial romanticism, a fantasy of beliefs without commitments or conviction. Or, along the lines of some of our discussions, romanticism provides a way to honor "traditional values" without having to follow them. But, lest I do the same by indulging in further cant without texts to reference, I'll stop now and wait for further developments.

Regards,

Craig White

 

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Amana Marie Le Blanc

Literature 5535: American Romanticism

Craig White

October 6, 2000

The Reflective Romance of "Winter Dreams"

            The notion of a desirable object or subject that is either inaccessible or lost is a fundamental element of Romantic ideology. Much has been said of this phenomenon relative to the likelihood that the desirability of the object/subject in question is, in fact, a consequence of its inaccessibility. Scholars have also explored the possibility that there is some psychological mechanism in play that propels the pursuit of an unattainable item (whose unattainability may or may not have been created by the pursuant) in order that the devastation of the loss, or its inaccessibility, might fulfill some emotional need to experientially replay this exhaustive cycle of desire and loss.        

However intriguing these musings, there is, I believe, a consciousness that moves beyond this classic cycle and considers it with a disinterested melancholy. The relevance of such a consciousness would be the definitive justification of romance as reflective rather than merely impulsive. The traditional romantic cycle (as outlined above) appears decidedly mechanical and deterministic. What is at stake here is human agency and rationality. F. Scott Fitzgerald in his "Winter Dreams" explores the consciousness to which I refer and I intend to show this through a close analysis of that text.

One criticism of my argument that I will preemptively consider, is the possibility that if there is melancholy in the reflection on the vanished, simply non-existent, or consciously fabricated cycle (of desire and loss), then this cycle has merely extended itself beyond object and subject to include the ideal; whose loss it will bemoan in the customary fashion. I believe, however, that the loss of an ideal is distinct from object or subject, and outside the traditional cycle, in that it is disinterested (Immanuel Kantís term, to be explored more thoroughly). While the loss of object or subject in the standard schema is characterized by intense emotion, the loss of the ideal is instead represented by a strangely poignant

apathy.

9 Oct. 2000

Dear Amana,

I enjoyed reading your proposal. The concept is intriguing in itself, but that raises the risk that you will ride that intrigue and not be forced into a careful analysis. And I might not know the difference, as I felt a little dreamy and non-analytical as I went along, derfting from the suddenly abhorrent mechanism of the desire-loss cycle into the comparatively sweet ineffability of poignant apathy. Perhaps you yourself need a rhetorical mechanism to control or sharpen the distinctions you're making. As an instance of this potential problem, we shift from an impulsive, deterministic mechanism to a reflective, rational objectification. This very nearly works, nearly enough that you should continue to align or coordinate the terminology so that the metaphors are more consistent with each other, and the solution meets the problem on its own terms (or, if not, the solution may self-consciously dispose of the terms in which the problem is conceived and substitute more useful terms). Well, with that parenthetical qualification you've got me talking like you, which brings me to my only other immediate suggestion: avoid overqualification in the form of alternative phrasings ("subject or object"). Such are sometimes necessary while drafting, and here I take them no more seriously than as a draft; however, as you revise your paper toward completion, make the hard choices. Overall I do agree with your reading of "Winter Dreams." Listen to the Tchaikovsky symphony (his first?) with the same title.

Dear Dr. White,

Thank you for your comments and suggestions on my Essay Proposal. It took me a while to get back to you on this because your comments really set me off in quite a few different directions. The whole proposal process is a great way to help you reassess your own ideas and get outside perspective (Iím sure you know this).

Tchaikovsky Symphony (it is #1) was WONDERFUL! Very relevant!

You are SO right about the real need to work out a precise semantic strategy, and adhere to it so that my argument does not become too elliptical. My distinctions between consciousness in the desire and loss cycle versus consciousness in the state of "poignant apathy," will have to be precisely delineated and perhaps reconfigured based on my findings.

Iím working on another project (my Thesis) that deals with Fitzgeraldís The Great Gatsby (of which I believe Winter Dreams is an early version) as a Romantic text whose romance consists of a desire for the real (the embodiment of the idea). The next stages in my analysis are: the texts of Literary Realism in which desire itself becomes the real, and Postmodern texts in which there is a definitive absence of the desire and the real.

Given the above parameters, it almost seems that I am arguing for Winter Dreams and a postmodern text. I suppose I could make this argument (there seems to be ample evidence to support it), or I could opt for consistency and argue for Winter Dreams as strictly Romantic in my context (a desire for the real NOT beyond the desire loss cycle). Perhaps that would be more comparable to the goals of this class. Nevertheless, even in fixing this limitation, it seems that I would still be taking Fitzgeraldís Romance beyond (or to the pinnacle of) the traditional Romance in that rather than dealing with the loss of tangible objects (people, places, or things), he is dealing with the loss of the idea.

What do you think?

Amana

 

Dear Amana,

I'm so glad you liked the Winter Dreams symphony. Around your age I rushed out and bought it after watching the Ken Russell movie, the Music Lovers (a.k.a. Tchaikovsky and the Music Lovers), which I dunno whether to recommend or not. The opening 5 minutes were great, but then the rest was fairly sordid, reminding the audience repeatedly that the greatest non-Germanic composer's life was anything but Romantic.

About FSF's "Winter Dreams," you're the selection respondent, so please consider including something about the story being a warmup for Gatsby, as most of the other students will know the novel.

Without insisting on any of the periodization schemes too strictly, it may be that "Winter Dreams," as a Modernist text, is both Romantic and Postmodern. That is, it retains a pale imprint of past Romantic efflorescences (woman as nature, youth) while anticipating the postmodern revisions of the desire cycle (or is it the desire object)? Maybe this is too glib, as I'm not quite able to conceptualize and thus grapple with the revisions you're considering, but glibness has its attractions, so use it as far as you like.

See you tomorrow. Whitman's "A child went forth" may be relevant to the desire cycle--jump in if you're ready.

Craig White

 

 

 

 

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Doreen Williams-Stewart

5 October 2000

Hi Dr. White,

Here's an attempt at an essay proposal. Can it work?

Possible title: Beyond the Dream/ Beyond the Romance of the Dream.

The idea would be to look at the idea of the American Dream of individual striving, new growth/ development in a new land, new avenues to be explored, new structures etc. The romantic spirit of new world people in a new world and how the literature presents same. I would seek to explore desire and loss as intrinsic features of romanticism, look at instances where the desire of some has the effect of marginalizing the dreams of others. Explore the plight of the dispossessed in the American context; those on the fringes of the dream eg. the American Indians and the African Americans.

Works to consider might be those of Cooper, Apess, Rowlandson, McKay, Hughes and possibly Wheatley.

Doreen.

 

 

6 October 2000

Dear Doreen,

Your paper has a good impulse and initial focus, so follow these out. I'm particularly struck by your suggestion that desire by some impinges on the desire or dreams of others. In the Minority Literature seminar we often observe how the American Dream of the dominant culture becomes an "American Nightmare" for minority cultures. Yet the Dream-Romance narrative is so compelling that at least in some cases the marginalized people adopt aspects of it, become individuall empowered by it, etc. Probably 2 or 3 authors is plenty for a paper of this kind. The choices you make for authors may determine your content considerably. Feel free to continue to check in with me as you proceed. One further note: since the content is somewhat more cultural than literary, you may want to compensate somewhat by brining forward some literary terms such as narrative, romance, etc., or using some techniques peculiar to literary study, such as juxtaposing comparable elements such as scenes or characters from different texts.

Regards,

Craig White

 

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Shelly Childers

Essay Proposal

October 3, 2000

Romance - As one of many closet romance readers, I find myself constantly defending my choices of reading materials. I am a well-educated adult seeking a Master's degree in literature and yet my idea of an indulgent relaxing evening revolves around some solitude, a bubble bath, candles, and the latest Nora Roberts book. I know, I know - it's trash - hardly worth the paper it's written on. But is it really? This is what I have heard but as I broaden my intellectual horizons, I keep returning to them. There must be something there.

I took Love in Western Literature with Gretchen and I was drawn to Aristophanesí depiction of the androgyn. The argument that men and women were actually two halves of a whole that sustained each other until death seemed to be carried throughout European literature. Tristan, "Romeo and Juliet", Wuthering Heights, Women in Love are all examples of this blinding, doomed love.

But, with American Romanticism, I don't see this at all. In fact, the theme of individualism seems to apply to women as well as men and Romance begins to cross boundaries of race, and experience -- with more of an emphasis on "happy ever after" and less emphasis on "I canít live without you." Romance is alive and well in many different forms but the audience seems to be more and more often, women.

Romances instruct, much like Charlotte's story. They comfort, as in the domestic romances which let women know that they weren't by themselves in their lonely frontier existence. They challenge, as in The Last of the Mohicans. Cora is an intelligent, quick-thinking, kind woman who approaches danger and difficulty with bravery. I'm not sure how Fanny Fern or Annie Dillard's writings fit in but I'm interested in finding out.

            The romance genre has literally exploded over the last 15-20 years. Romance writers are churning out books at an amazing rate. Iíve read a lot of them and Iíve thrown away my share. Iíve also wept over them, passed them to my friends, and kept a collection of my favorites. I see patterns of Romanticism in this modern popular brand of literature.

            Yes, they are formulaic. Yes, there is always a tall, dark and handsome guy or some variation. Yes, they usually end with a Ďhappy ever afterí ending but they instruct, they comfort, they challenge, and probably some other things that I havenít actually thought through. If Poe is a catalog of Romanticism, then the modern romance novel is an encyclopedia. I hope to show that American Romanticism is still evident in Romance novels near the turn of the 21st century.

            What do you think? I know this reads kind of like stream of consciousness Ė probably because it is! And yes, I know Iím long winded. Can I do something with this? I think modern romances support the Romantic idea of the individual in a unique way. Where do I go from here?

 

4 October 2000

Dear Shelly,

It's a large but worthy topic, so start some research and see what you can manage in a paper of our assigned length. My main questions from your proposal rise in its third paragraph. The opening about individualism as opposed to love is very striking, and could form the core of your investigation. But after the dash you say the opposite of what I expected from before the dash.

I'll recommend two important studies of the subject. Janice Radway's Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (UNC Press, 1984, 1991) is a terrific survey of romance readers, and it usefully summarizes some standard plots and appeals of the genre. I've also recommended this to Stacey Burleson in our class, who's considering the topic of historical romances.

UHCL library may or may not have a copy, so check soon and use interlibrary loan as necessary, or I have a precious copy for brief loans.

Another, older major study whose thesis conforms to the opening of paragraph 3 is Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel, which confirms that there's little happily ever after. He mainly traces the artistic triumphs of the male gothic and outdoor forms of the American novel in contrast to the sentimental romance, which is consigned chiefly to popular literature. Some efforts have been made to redeem the literary merits of the popular sentimental romance, so you don't need to accept all of Fiedler's conclusions, but he does represent the ways the "canon" of authors like Twain, Poe, Cooper, etc. triumphed in the academy even while selling less in the marketplace than the popular romances.

Also read the introduction to Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall for Hawthorne's take on this subject, which launches the "trash" metaphor.

Always more to say, but I'll wait for more from you. So far, much potential.

Craig White

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Caroline Garner

Dear Dr. White,

I am having trouble coming up with a concrete essay topic, but I know

the women writers we have read so far this semester appeal to me. I

might compare the similarities of these authors on some detail of their

style. Maybe, that they seem to channel their writing abilities into

areas like poetry, letters, and journals. I know this is a bit sketchy

so far, but it seems like an interesting study. I welcome your

suggestions, as they are always helpful.

Caroline Garner

 

Dear Caroline,

I kept looking your way today because I was trying to think of something I'd thought of that would help with your essay, but couldn't come up with it. When I got back to my office, I saw it--I'd pulled a book for you but forgot to haul it on the TV truck. I'd meant to show you the _Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States_ as a possible source to consult. Besides articles on all our major women writers from the course, it has entries on such topics as "Diaries and Journals," "Letters," and "Poetry," along with several other genres and historic movements. The UHCL library has a copy in the reference section (PS), or you can borrow mine if you catch me. One possible angle for the subject would be how women's writing shifted from private genres to published genres.

I'll reserve further comment till I hear again from you. G'day--

Craig White