As most famously defined by F. O. Matthiessen in his groundbreaking book, The American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941), the “American Renaissance” demarcates a period of tremendous literary activity between the 1830s and 1860s that marked the cultivation, for the first time, of a distinctively American literature.
As most famously defined by F. O. Matthiessen in his groundbreaking book, The American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941), the “American Renaissance” demarcates a period of tremendous literary activity between the 1830s and 1860s that marked the cultivation, for the first time, of a distinctively American literature. For Matthiessen and many other critics, its key figures—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville—sought to define and explore the new American identity, carving out new modes of expression and self-identification. In the years since Matthiessen’s important work and especially in the past several decades, this characterization of the literary period has been challenged on several fronts, for overstating the innovations of these few authors, for the exclusion of women, African-American, and more popular authors from its account of the United States during a period of social and cultural upheaval and transition, and for its acceptance of a myth of American exceptionalism. We begin this course by taking a look at context: What was it in American culture and society that led to the dramatic outburst of literary creativity in this era? We then explore some of the period’s most famous works, approaching them by genre category. Finally, we attempt to define the emerging American identity represented in this literature.
Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:
Discriminate among the key economic, technological, social, and cultural transformations underpinning the American Renaissance,
Define the transformations in American Protestantism exemplified by the second Great Awakening and transcendentalism.
List the key tenets of transcendentalism and relate them to romanticism more broadly and to social and cultural developments in the antebellum United States.
Analyze Emerson’s place in defining transcendentalism and his key differences from other transcendentalists.
Analyze competing conceptualizations of poetry and its construction and purpose, with particular attention to Poe, Emerson, and Whitman.
Define the formal innovations of Dickinson and their relationship to her central themes.
Describe the emergence of the short story as a form, with reference to specific stories by Hawthorne and Poe.
Distinguish among forms of the novel, with reference to specific works by Hawthorne, Thompson, and Fern.
Analyze the ways that writers such as Melville, Brownson, Davis, and Thoreau saw industrialization and capitalism as a threat to U. S. society.
Develop the relationship between Thoreau’s interest in nature and his political commitments and compare and contrast his thinking with Emerson and other transcendentalists.
Analyze the different ways that sentimentalism constrained and empowered women writers to critique gender conventions, with reference to specific works by writers such as Fern, Alcott, and Stowe.
Define the ways that the slavery question influenced major texts and major controversies over literature during this period.
More info: http://www.saylor.org/courses/engl405/