Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session
This seminar looks at two bestselling nineteenth-century American authors whose works made the subject of slavery popular among mainstream readers. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain have subsequently become canonized and reviled, embraced and banned by individuals and groups at both ends of the political and cultural spectrum and everywhere in between. To understand the monumental impact these novels have had on U.S. culture, we need to put them into their historical context and to recognize that Stowe and Twain wrote in dialogue with important African-American authors, with each other, and with other works by themselves. Hence we will look at the way Stowe responded to and was received by escaped slaves and writers like Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, Martin Delany, and Harriet Jacobs. Her novel Dred, coming later than Uncle Tom's Cabin, registers the effects of that dialogue as she worked to construct less compliant, more aggressive models of African-American slaves. Why was the later, more complex novel forgotten and the first preserved? Similarly, we will examine the ways Twain responded to previous authors and his own experience in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel similar to Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in combining controversial material with sentimental and comic literary techniques to produce a popular work. Later African-American authors like Frances E. W. Harper and Charles Chesnutt addressed the outcome of the Civil War more directly than Twain did, however, and his own later novella, Pudd'nhead Wilson, reflects the racial tensions of the late nineteenth century rather than the more nostalgic view of Huckleberry Finn. As with Stowe, though, his earlier work stands in the cultural mainstream rather than his later reconsideration of slavery and post-Civil War social and political realities. This course will attempt to restore the often messy, troubling, and contentious context surrounding works that have become vastly more simplified in recent times.
This is a discussion course where your attendance and participation in class are vital to your success and that of the group.
Each student will be responsible for making a brief presentation (no more than 15 minutes) at the beginning of one class during the term. This report involves providing context for the day's reading, raising questions, issues, and passages for discussion, and illustrating a topic using the classroom archive. A print handout should be prepared to distribute to the class and hand in to me on the day of the report. Students will also report on their research papers as the class draws toward its conclusion.