Unit II: Literary Nationalism, 1800-1840
Week 5: Literary Nationalism I
- Unit 2, Introduction
- Romanticism 108
- Washington Irving 109-117
- James Fenimore Cooper 119-125
- Search for a Voice 127
- William Cullen Bryant “Thanatopsis” 128-133
- William Cullen Bryant, “To a Waterfowl” 192-4.
- Bryant and Romanticism 133
- Please also begin reading Moby Dick. I have allotted five weeks for this — it's a long and complicated book — but see that you don’t fall behind. You should cover at least a fifth of it (through Ch. 27) for this week.
CONSIDER for discussion:
- What do you notice about the style of Moby Dick? We’ll spend a while talking about this in general terms. How does it square with the styles of other authors you have read from the same period? Compare, for example, Dickens on the one hand, and Hawthorne on the other.
- Melville is considered to be one of the so-called “symbolists” (as is Hawthorne) — what do you suppose this means? Should you expect to find that everything stands for something else? Or is the relationship of symbol and thing symbolized more complex? How can this work?
- Those of you who were in English II will remember that last year we spent a good deal of time talking about what was peculiar about Romanticism — its characteristic features, forms, and themes. The summary of its features on p. 108 is reasonably good. Keep your eyes open to how America has permuted and transformed this impulse in its own literature.
- What does the text mean in the introductory passages by a “voice” — both in the “emerging voices” section of the introduction, and in the “Search for a Voice” section? Is this a legitimate category of thought? Can it be abused?
- Cooper was celebrated for his realism. Does this passage seem particularly realistic to you? Worth reading is Mark Twain’s later “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”, surely one of the funniest pieces of literary criticism ever written by anyone. It may change your opinion of Cooper, or it may not. Either way, it’s incisive and funny.
- Carefully consider William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis”. How would you compare it to other poets you have encountered in the English tradition? Milton? Swift? Keats? Shelley? Does it seem to be a product of the Romantic movement, or is it more rationalistic? Does this categorization even hold? Not to withhold anything from you — there is a Reader’s Note on Bryant and Romanticism on p. 133. Do you agree with it? Why or why not?
THE PLAY’S THE THING:
A little something extra (optional)
You may also be interested in reading the text of The Contrast by Royall Tyler — the first play professionally presented in the United States. In terms of looking for and finding a distinctly American voice, this is clearly an important thing to consider. It’s also a pretty good play in its own right, and worth reading just for fun. I thought it only available in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, but Project Gutenberg has come through for us.
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