Friday, April 22, 2011

Beneath the Canon: Reading Out-of-Print 19th Century American Novels

I am about to begin a course that aims to reclaim out-of-print American novels from the 19th century (I first wrote about this back on December 7, 2010).  We will ask questions related to why these novels are no longer read and what criteria has been or is used by critics to shape the present canon.The intention is to question not only the notion of canon but also why certain texts have been shut out of the traditional canon of the period.  Along the way, we will also talk about whether this new access prompts a change in how we read, though I suspect at this point our discussions of individual texts will not be very different from conversations about more conventionally gotten texts. We will gain access to electronic editions using an Amazon Kindle and the texts available from the Kindle store (many at no additional cost to the students).  We will read (at least) one novel each week during the six-week spring term. We will, I hope, be able to think more broadly about the reading and about the issues that we will address during our discussions (issues of aesthetics, social conscience, popular versus literary fiction

Here is the list of potential readings:

Writers listing – 19th Century American Writers

Louisa May Alcott [individually available or of part of a collection]
            Hospital Sketches
            An Old Fashioned Girl
            Under the Lilacs
Horatio Alger [Individual or collection]
Charles Brockton Brown [individual or collection]
            Arthur Mervyn
            Clara Howard
            Jane Talbot
Charles Chesnutt [individual]
            The House Behind the Cedars
            The Colonel’s Dream
Lydia Maria Child [individual]
            A Romance of the Republic
Kate Chopin [individual]
            At Fault
Richard Harding Davis [collection]
            Soldiers of Fortune
Thomas Dixon [collection]
            The Clansman
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman [individual or collection]
            Giles Corey (a play)
Pauline Hopkins [individual]
            One Blood
William Dean Howells [individual]
            The Man of Letters as A Man of Business
            The Quality of Mercy
Frank Norris [individual or collection]
            The Pit
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps [individual]
            The Gate’s Ajar
Elizabeth Payson Prentiss [individual]
            Stepping Heavenward
Elizabeth Oakes Smith [individual]
            The Newsboy
E.D.E.N. Southworth [individual]
            Ishmael; or, In the Depths
Harriet Beecher Stowe [individual or collection]
            Pink and White Tyranny
Albion Tourgee [individual]
            Bricks Without Straw
Mark Twain     
            Is Shakespeare Dead?
Susan B. Warner

This is an experiment. While the past decades have seen a rise in the number of optional texts for classroom use, the current availability of hundreds of out-of-print novels through electronic/digitized files opens a wholly new opportunity for introducing the processes that determine canon or even cultural formation. 

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