Faculty of Arts


Literature USA: from the American Renaissance to the Jazz Age


Examines a selection of classic texts and major issues in the literature of the United States from the American Renaissance of the 1840s and 50s through to the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s. Texts and emphases may vary from year to year, but our primary concern is the relation between literature and some of the larger historical processes and problems of the period.

A cross-cultural frontier becomes a settled landscape; a "new world" becomes a new world order; a post-colonial literature engages the traditions of Europe; utopian hopes are contradicted by slavery and its legacies; emancipated women challenge the dominance of men; the big city offers new opportunities for self-fashioning and cultural invention. The theoretical orientation of the course is broadly new historicist and is responsive to recent developments in settler colonial studies, gender theory, environmental and spatial history.

This course promotes advanced reading, critical and writing skills through the study of a carefully chosen set of thematically interlocking texts.

Proposed 2019 timetable

  1. Introduction: Thoreau, "Walking"
  2. Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  3. Poe, stories
  4. Melville, shorter fictions ("Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno").
  5. Emily Dickinson, poems
  6. Twain, Huckleberry Finn
  7. James, Portrait of a Lady
  8. Cather, The Professor’s House
  9. Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  10. Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
  11. Conclusion

Learning outcomes

  • Develops a broad-ranging and high-level understanding of major authors and issues in nineteenth and early twentieth-century American literature
  •  Develops reading and writing skills to an appropriate graduate level, and models the processes that lead to professional publication
  •  Develops a transferable theoretical understanding of new historicist, settler-colonial, ecocritical and gender-related criticism
  •  Develops the potential to undertake comparative work in other settler colonial literatures, such as New Zealand, Australian, Canadian and South African

View the course syllabus

Availability 2020

Not offered in 2020; planned for 2021


Coordinator(s) Associate Professor Alex Calder


Thoreau, "Walking" (essay)

Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Poe, stories

Melville, shorter fictions ("Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno")

Emily Dickinson, poems

Twain, Huckleberry Finn

James, Portrait of a Lady

Cather, The Professor’s House

Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Gershwin, Porgy and Bess


ENGLISH 787: 30.0 points

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