Nicolaus Mills

BA, Harvard University. PhD, Brown University. Special interest in American studies. Author of Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower; The Triumph of Meanness: America’s War Against Its Better Self; Their Last Battle: The Fight for the National World War II Memorial; Like a Holy Crusade: Mississippi 1964; The Crowd in American Literature; and American and English Fiction in the 19th Century. Editor of Getting Out: Historical Perspectives on Leaving Iraq; Debating Affirmative Action; Arguing Immigration; Culture in an Age of Money; Busing USA; The New Journalism; and The New Killing Fields. Contributor to The Boston Globe, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, The Nation, Yale Review, National Law Journal, and The Guardian; editorial board member, Dissent magazine. Recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and the Rockefeller Foundation. SLC, 1972–

Undergraduate Courses 2019-2020

Literature

The Marriage Plot: Love and Romance in American and English Fiction

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

First-year students may enroll with permission of the instructor

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had,” Charlotte Brontë’s title character exclaims in the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre. Jane’s wedding may be quiet, but the steps leading up to her marriage with a man who once employed her as a governess are tumultuous. With the publication of Jane Eyre, we have left behind the early marriage-plot novel in which a series of comic misunderstandings pave the way for a joyous wedding. This course will begin with such classic marriage-plot novels as Jane Austen’s Emma, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. But the course will also look at love and courtship in such untraditional marriage-plot novels as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. By the time the course concludes with Jeffrey Eugenides’s contemporary novel, The Marriage Plot, the marriages and courtships we see will be distinctly modern in the form that they take and, equally significant, in the complexity and uncertainty that they bring with them.

Faculty

First-Person America

Open , Seminar—Year

To a remarkable degree, the most important American literature texts, whether fiction or nonfiction, are written from a first-person perspective and depend on a unique “I” speaking directly to readers and focusing on a wide variety of personal experiences. In the 19th century, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn are all first-person narratives. In the early 20th century, the same first-person strategy holds for Willa Cather’s My Antonia, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. This course will begin by surveying the classic, first-person texts of American literature and then move on to such modern work as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. At the heart of this course is the premise that contemporary, American first-person writing is an extension, not a departure, from classic American first-person writing.

Faculty

Previous Courses

The Marriage Plot: Love and Romance in Classic American and English Fiction

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had,” Charlotte Bronte’s title character exclaims in the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre. Jane’s wedding is quiet, but the steps leading up to her marriage with the man who once employed her as a governess are tumultuous. By the time of Jane Eyre, we are far from the early marriage-plot novel in which suitors, proposals, and comic misunderstandings pave the way for a joyous wedding. This course is designed to follow the evolution of the marriage plot in classic 19th- and 20th-century American and English fiction. The course opens with Jane Austen’s Emma and closes with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. The readings are designed to explore how both the marriage ideal and the failings of marriage have been fictionally depicted over two centuries. The first half of the course centers on a series of paired American and English novels: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The second half of the course focuses on how American variations of the marriage-plot novel have expanded the tradition and given it new reach. The books studied in the second half of the course will include Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Faculty

The Literature of Fact: Journalism and Beyond

Open , Seminar—Year

The last 60 years have been boom times for nonfiction writing. From investigative reporting to memoirs, the literature of fact has thrived. Writers have found that, as the late Tom Wolfe observed, it is possible to turn out nonfiction as lively as fiction and, in the process, capture the history of one’s own times. The aim of this course is to explore nonfiction in a variety of forms and for students to write nonfiction of their own. The course will focus on basic reporting, memoirs, op-eds, reviews, profiles, and long-form journalism. Students will do writing of their own that matches the kind of writing being studied at the time. The course will begin by emphasizing writing technique and move on to longer assignments in which research, interviews, and legwork play an increasingly important role. The writers studied will range from James Baldwin and George Orwell to Joan Didion and Gay Talese. This course is not for students with remedial writing problems or with difficulty meeting deadlines. At the time of their interviews, students must bring with them short samples of their written work.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Literature of Fact: Journalism and Beyond—Reading and Writing the Nonfiction Essay

Open , Seminar—Year

A sample of the student's work is required for admission.

The aim of this course is to have students use their reading of nonfiction as a basis for writing nonfiction of their own. The essays written in this course will not be about the literature that we study but about topics that students choose that fall within categories such as the profile, the op-ed, and the review. The essays will come with deadlines for first drafts, rewrites, and final copy. The writers whom we read will include Tom Wolfe, Zadie Smith, George Orwell, Joan Didion, E. B. White, Maxine Hong Kingston, James Baldwin, and Malcolm Gladwell. We will begin with basic reportage and work our way up to long-form writing. The emphasis at the start of the course will be on technique; as we progress to longer assignments, our focus will be on the role that research, interviews, and legwork play in completing a story. The aim of the course, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, is to produce nonfiction as lively as fiction. But this goal does not mean taking liberties with the truth. This is, above all, a course in the literature of fact. It is not for students with remedial writing problems and should not be taken if you are already taking another prose writing course.

Faculty
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Art and Fiction in America: Portrait of a Nation

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Open to first-year students with permission of the instructor.

From 19th-century landscape painting to 20th-century photography, the work of America’s visual artists has paralleled that of its writers. This course will explore that relationship in terms of a series of artistic and literary masterworks. The course will look at art that is contemporaneous with the books that we read, as well as art that appears within the pages of American fiction. The aim of this approach is to trace how the visualizing of America was crucial to the conclusions that our artists and writers reached on a variety of issues that they saw defining the country. Among the artists whom we will study are Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, George Caleb Bingham, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sergeant, John Sloan, and Dorothea Lange. The literary masterworks will feature the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, J. D. Salinger, and Sylvia Plath. Students will begin their conference work by putting the classic 19th-century American novel in perspective through the study of a series of classic, 19th-century British novels.

Faculty
Related Disciplines