ENGL 374: U.S. Literature: Modernism

Course description:  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.  Cather, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Toomer, Eliot, Faulkner, and Hurston are among the authors we will read.

For Fall 2020 we will use Blackboard and our course website for background information on the works we are reading and for assignments, and we will come together in Zoom sessions each week at our scheduled class time for discussion of the material.  The tests will be “take-home,” and our exchange of ideas will be ongoing through Blackboard discussion questions and responses.  I will be available throughout the semester for individual conferences through email, cell phone, or Zoom.

About this page: This page will host course-specific page links, documents, images, and contextual information related to authors and works being studied during the semester. It will contain information that supplements, but does not replace, the contents of Blackboard and will be a platform that is, in many cases, more quickly and easily accessible than Blackboard.





Note on Blackboard Postings 

Sheet for Calculating Your Grade

Web Page Updates

(This page was last updated on 22 September 2020)

Winesburg, Ohio

Sherwood Anderson and Winesburg, Ohio (1919)

Sherwood Anderson (1876 – 1941) was born in Camden, a small Ohio farming town. After several moves the family settled in Clyde, Ohio, on which the fictional town of Winesburg in his best known book, Winesburg, Ohio (1919), is based. In his later life from 1935 Anderson lived in Virginia, and he is buried in Marion, Virginia. On his gravestone are the words “Life, Not Death, Is the Great Adventure.” Anderson was a major influence on many other American writers, including Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Toomer, and William Faulkner, whose works we are reading in this class. For more biographical information click here or go to Sherwood Anderson’s Memoirs, ed. By Ray Lewis White (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 1969).

(1) Winesburg, Ohio: Trailer for the Novel

(2)  Winesburg, Ohio: Outline for Discussion

Click here for class discussion outline

(3) Winesburg, Ohio: Audio Recordings Links (all below are Libravox recordings, in the public domain)

The Book of The Grotesque
Paper Pills
The Philosopher
(from Adventure forward you will need to click on the link, then scroll to the story)
The Strength of God
The Teacher

(1) The Waste Land: Trailer for Part One–The Burial of the Dead

(2) Structure Sheet
The Waste Land Structure Sheet

(3) Biographical Information on T.S. Eliot


The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby (1925)

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), author of This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and Damned (1922), The Great Gatsby (1925), Tender Is the Night (1934), and the unfinished and posthumously published The Last Tycoon(1941), appealed to two diverse audiences from the beginning of his career to the end: the popular magazine audience and the elite of the literary establishment. His short stories appeared regularly in the 1920’s and 1930’s in such mass circulation magazines as The Saturday Evening PostHearst’s InternationalCollier’sRedbook, and Esquire. The readers of these magazines early on came to ask for Fitzgerald’s flapper stories by name, expecting to find in them rich, young, and glamorous heroes and heroines involved in exciting adventures. Popular magazines in the 1920’s billed Fitzgerald stories on the cover, often using them inside as lead stories. Long after Fitzgerald lost the knack of writing the kind of popular stories that made him famous as the creator of the flapper in fiction and as the poet laureate of the jazz age, magazine headnotes to his stories identified him as such.

Those who recognized the more serious side of his talent as it was evidenced particularly in his best stories (“The Ice Palace,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and “Babylon Revisited,” for example) and his novels included Edmund Wilson, George Jean Nathan, H. L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, and T. S. Eliot, who offered criticism as well as praise. Fitzgerald was generous with advice to other writers, most notably to Ring Lardner, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe; but also to struggling unknowns, who wrote to him asking advice and got it. Many of Fitzgerald’s critical opinions became public when he published his Crack-up essays in Esquire in the late 1930’s, his dark night of the soul. Regarded by some in Fitzgerald’s time as self-pitying, these essays are now often anthologized and widely quoted for the ideas and theories about literature and life that they contain. After his death and the posthumous publication of his incomplete The Last Tycoon, a Fitzgerald revival, still in progress both in the academic world and in popular culture, began. With this revival, Fitzgerald’s reputation as a novelist (principally on the strength of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night), short-story writer, and essayist has been solidly established. As Steven Vincent Benét wrote in a Saturday Review of Literature tribute to Fitzgerald after his death, “This is not a legend—this is a reputation. It may well be one of the most secure reputations of our time.”

(Adapted from Bryant Mangum, “Introduction to the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald.”  To read article click here: “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” The Critical Survey of Long Fiction.)

(1) The Great Gatsby: Trailer for the Novel

(2) The Great Gatsby: Outline for Discussion
Click here for outline for discussion

3)  The Great Gatsby: Structure Sheet
Click here for structure sheet

(4)  The Great Gatsby: Introductory Article (contains many points we
will cover)
Click here for introductory article

The Professor’s House (1925)
by Willa Cather

Today Willa Cather is one of the most important American novelists of the first half of the twentieth century. Seen as a regional writer for decades after her passing in 1947, critics have increasingly identified Cather as a canonical American writer, the peer of authors like Hemingway, Faulkner and Wharton.

The eldest of seven children, Willa Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virginia in 1873. When Cather was nine years old, her family moved to rural Webster County, Nebraska. After a year and a half, the family resettled in the county seat of Red Cloud, where Cather lived until beginning her college studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1890.

After her graduation in 1895, Cather worked as a journalist and teacher, living first in Pittsburgh and later in New York City. Her first volume of poetry, April Twilights, was published by a vanity press in 1903, and in 1912 she was able to leave editorial work and live as a full-time writer and poet….  As one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century, Willa Cather was gifted in conveying an intimate understanding of her characters in relation to their personal and cultural environments—environments that often derived from Red Cloud. Cather died from a cerebral hemorrhage on April 24, 1947 and was buried in the Old Burying Ground in Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire. Engraved on her tombstone is this quotation from My Ántonia: “that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.” Willa Cather is the author of 12 novels, 6 collections of short fiction, 2 editions of her book of poetry, April Twilights, and numerous works of nonfiction, collected journalism, speeches, and letters.

(from “About Willa Cather,” The Willa Cather Center. For full article, click here)

1.  The Professor’s House: Trailer for the Novel