The Political and Cultural Work of Women Writers in the United States, 1790-1990


“This is what I want you to do,” novelist Rebecca Harding Davis wrote in 1861. “I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me—here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear this story. There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog, that has laid dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you.” Using the literary and expository writing of US women, we will explore American stories and secrets, what women writers are working to make “a real thing to you.” Readings will include autobiography, novels, stories, and cultural criticism. Rather than just following canonical literary or intellectual history, we will investigate less well-known and popular fictions alongside classics. Major themes will include questions of politics, class, and regional conflict; womanhood, manhood, and sexuality; American identity and nationalism; immigration and race. Course work will focus on literary and print culture, but students may explore other media in conference. Particular emphasis will be placed on careful research of the historical context when analyzing primary documents from the period. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to consult a textbook regularly.