English 206: American Literature II
English 301 (English Studies)
English 374: Early Twentieth Century American Literature
English 375: Contemporary American Literature
English 391: Fathers and Sons in Literature
English 490: Fitzgerald and Hemingway
English 572: American Literature, 1865-present
English 614: Sophie’s Choice
English 624: The Roaring Twenties
English 624: The New Yorker
This course is a broad survey of American literature from 1865 through the present. In it we will work backward from the Contemporary Period through the Modern Period into the Age of Realism, attempting along the way to determine major themes and dominant philosophical moods that characterize the literary literary movements that we encounter in our readings.
English 301 is an introduction to the kind of analytical reading and writing your will be expected to do as an English major. For some of you who are well into your major the course will be a review of sorts in that you will be sharpening skills that you have already learned, perhaps even reading works that you have already read. I hope, however, that you will all encounter in this course many texts that you will find exciting to read, reread, discuss, and write about. We will consider works from various genres, among them the short story, the novel, the poem, and the play.
A group of American writers whose first major works appeared in the 1920s was a generation “grown up to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.” Gertrude Stein labeled them the lost generation, and their works mirrored the extravagance and corruption that led to their disenchantment. This course will explore the subjects and themes of the Jazz Age, the 1920s , as they are reflected in the literature of the time, and it will examine various exits from the wasteland suggested by post-crash authors. Anderson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Toomer, O’Neill, Eliot, Faulkner, and Hurston are among the authors we will read. There will be three objective hour tests, a mid-semester essay, and a cumulative final examination.
J.D. Salinger’s Seymour Glass tells a story about bananafish, which have swum into a hole, and after filling up on bananas, are unable to swim back out again. They die. What T.S. Eliot’s wasteland was to post-Wold War I writers, Salinger’s bananafish hole is to contemporary American authors. The hole comes in various disguises; for James Jones it is the army’s solitary confinement dungeon; for Flannery O’Connor, it is a hayloft in the Georgia Boondocks, where a one-legged intellectual is robbed of her artificial leg by a bogus Bible salesman; for Ken Kesey it is a mental ward in which non-conformity is rewarded with a prefrontal lobotomy; for Edward Albee it is a zoo, or a middle-American household, which have enough in common to serve as metaphors for the same thing. Often the images are frightening; sometimes they are funny. Always they are exciting to read about and discuss. We will read works by such writers as Alice Walker, Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Jayne Ann Phillips, Tobias Wolff, and others. There will be four short-answer tests, a midterm essay, a paper, and a cumulative final exam.
Encounters between Oedipus and his father Laius and between Odysseus and his son Telemachus represent extremes in mythic depictions of the father-son relationship. Between the extremes of joyful wishes for reunion and patricide stands an enormous body of literature whose center is the father-son relationship. In this course we will examine the mythic underpinnings of that relationship, but our main focus will be on the dynamics of father-son relationships in modern and contemporary stories, plays, novels, and poems. The works will be grouped under the headings of Search and Discovery, Trials and Competition, Alliance, and Carrying the Father. Among authors whose works we will read are Sophocles, Shakespeare, Turgenev, Miller, Warren, Anderson, Hemingway, Baldwin, Taylor, Abbot, Gardner, Tobias Wolff, Geoffrey Wolff, Canin, Carver, Doctorow, and Quammen.
English 490: Fitzgerald and Hemingway (Senior Seminar)
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway met in April 1925 in the Dingo Bar, rue Delambre, Paris, just after the publication of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and shortly before the publication of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The relationship that developed betwen them during the next fifteen years was important to both them. In this course we will examine works by both of these authors, looking closely at the ways in which their stormy friendship influenced their writing and the direction of their literary careers.Our major objective in this class will be to acquaint ourselves with the contributions to American letters of Fitzgerald and Hemingway through close reading and careful discussion of much of the fiction written by them– particularly of that fiction written during the time of their friendship, 1925-1940. Another main objective will be to familiarize ourselves with the major source material–biographical, bibliographical, and critical–for each author; and through the use of this material we will draw conclusions about their relationship to each other and to the time in which they wrote.
American literature after 1865 breaks logically into three major periods, each marked at the beginning by war and each characterized at the center by a dominant philosophical mood. The great literary realists, Twain, Howells, and Henry James were influenced by William James’ ideas on radical empiricism and pragmatism; the didactic realists or naturalists owe much to Darwin. In the post-War I or Modern Period the influence of Freudian and Jungian thought on writers like Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe is important, if not central, to an understanding of the art of this time. Einstein’s theories are similarly reflected in the writings of the post-War II Contemporary Period. In this course we will consider a wide cross section of American prose, poetry, and drama written between 1865 and the present. Our focus will be on the works themselves but the framework for our discussions will be the social and cultural climate from which these works emerged. There will be several papers and a final examination.
In the summer of 1949 William Styron met a woman named Sophie, who lived on the floor above him in a rooming house in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and whose last name was so difficult that he forgot it. Sophie captured Styron’s imagination, but he left Brooklyn knowing very little about her except that she was a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz. Twenty-four years later, during the summer of 1973, Styron began dreaming of Sophie and awoke one morning to discover that the name “Sophie,” at least in his mind’s eye, was written on the closet door of his bedroom. In the five years that followed, Styron would immerse himself in the imagined world of this woman who, he said, “imposed herself upon me.” The end result, published in the fall of 1979, was Sophie’s Choice, one of America’s finest novels–and one that has received far less careful critical attention than it deserves.
In this seminar we will examine in considerable detail the complex world of Sophie’s Choice. Among the topics that we will examine through seminar presentations are these: the circumstances related to the novel’s composition; the prototypes for its main characters, particularly the biographical and autobiographical underpinnings of Sophie and of Stingo, the narrator; the holocaust literature that Styron studied during the composition of the novel; the literary echoes heard within the novel, particularly as these relate to the readings of Stingo, Sophie, and Styron himself; the novel’s rich musical background; the contemporary American and European critical reception, as well as the current reputation of the novel; the novel’s place in American popular culture, including an examination of the film based on the novel. Each member of the class will give a seminar presentation and will write several short papers as well as a longer paper that will be due at the end of the semester.
“Ours was a generation grown up to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of those who, like himself, came of age in the 1920s, a decade he christened “the Jazz Age” and others celebrated as “the roaring twenties.” Ernest Hemingway, echoing Gertrude Stein, labelled the generation “lost,” and catalogued the deaths of many of its illusions, chief among them, perhaps, the death of romantic love. Within the celebrations of the decade’s excesses and the mournings of its losses, American literature came into its full flowering in the twenties, witnessing major works by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, Jean Toomer, and Eugene O’Neill. In this course we will read works by these authors, among others, and examine them in the context of the culture of the 1920s.Our major objective in this class will be to acquaint ourselves with the contributions to American letters of many of the major writers of the time (mentioned above) through close reading and careful discussion of works written by them, viewing them in the context of the culture of the twenties. Another objective will be to familiarize ourselves with the major source material–biographical, bibliographical, and critical–for these authors; and through the use of this material we will draw conclusions about the relationship of these authors to each other and to the time in which they wrote.
English 624: The New Yorker (Graduate Seminar)
“The New Yorker School of Fiction” is a phrase that one encounters in reading about the development of the short story in America after 1925. Dale Kramer says–and we may come to disagree with him–that the “New Yorker short story probably causes more debate, and results in more distemper, than anything else about the magazine.” Editors of The New Yorker, however, reportedly deny that there is any such thing as a “New Yorker story.” We will read a number of stories from back and current issues of The New Yorker in an attempt to characterize “The New Yorker School,” if such a thing does in fact exist. This will necessarily lead us to examine The New Yorker itself: the editorial principles upon which Harold Ross founded it in 1925 and the degree to which William Shawn carried Ross’s vision into the 1980’s.We will also focus on the effects that publishing in The New Yorker appears to have on its authors, particularly on those whose work typically has appeared in other magazines. Is there a difference in kind between an author’s New Yorker stories and his stories published elsewhere? Often Fitzgerald (not a New Yorker writer) wrote for The Saturday Evening Post. Do authors write for The New Yorker? Do authors heavily revise their New Yorker stories when they are collected between hard covers? Does a writer “change” after his/her first story has appeared in The New Yorker? Raymond Carver, who published in The New Yorker but who is not a New Yorker writer, may be interesting to consider in this regard. Why are stories from The New Yorker more widely anthologized than those from any other magazine? These are some of the questions that we will address in an attempt to explore the relationship between The New Yorker and its authors.