Btan 3001 ma american literary and cultural history

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BTAN 3001 MA

Portraits and Landmarks I
A lecture course in 19th-century American literature

Instructor: Gabriella Varró

Time: Th 12.00–13.40

Place: MBlg. II

Instructor’s Office Hours: M. 11.00–12.00, Th 11.00–12.00, 116/1

Phone: 52-512-900/22152



This retrospective course of study has been designed to foreground selected literary and cultural historical processes, peaks of development, theoretical issues, authorial achievements, as well as major shifts and turning-points pertaining to the literary culture of 19th-century America. Representative examples of selected themes will include varieties of American thought in classic U.S. literature, shifting paradigms in American culture, canonicity, the restructuring of U.S. literature, the special problematic of American naturalism (as opposed to European naturalisms), contradictory impulses of American naturalism, peaks of literary maturity (the 1850s), cultural myths in America, the cultural situation of the American writer, institutions of the literary culture, and literary awards.


1. Sept. 10. The American Renaissance: major cultural currents: Puritanism versus Transcendentalism; Classification of American authors in the 19th century
2. Sept. 17. Transcendentalism and Its Legacy (I): Emerson – The Foundations of Transcendental Philosophy (Native and Foreign sources, credo), the essays
3. Sept. 24. Transcendentalism and Its Legacy (II): Thoreau and his Walden and “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” Notions of progress, social development and social change
4. Oct. 01. Transcendentalism and Its Legacy (III): Transcendentalism and Utopia, Brook Farm, Fruitland, Walden, and other reform experiments/movements: labor, anti-slavery, education.
5. Oct. 08. The Making of American Myths (I): Benjamin Franklin and the Myth of the Self-Made Man (vertical mobility, the Horatio Alger formula)
The Making of American Myths (II): The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialisation.

6. Oct. 15. The new literature, major figures of the 19th century (I) – New York and the Knickerbocker group: George Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Cullen Bryant

7. Oct. 29. The new literature, major figures of the 19th century (II): Edgar Allan Poe and the beginnings of Literary Theory: “The Poetic Principle,” “Philosophy of Composition”—The Bicentennial Anniversary of Poe’s birth
8. Nov. 05. The new literature, major figures of the 19th century (III): Nathaniel Hawthorne, allegories of Puritan America in his tales.
9. Nov. 12. The new literature, major figures of the 19th century (IV): Herman Melville’s unique vision of race and ethnicity. The writing of the great American epic: Moby-Dick and its relevance
10. Nov. 19. The new literature, major figures of the 19th century (V): Feminist writing in 19th -century America: the Feminist Movement, Margaret Fuller, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
11. Nov. 26. From Slavery to Emancipation: Aspects of African American Thought (Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass,), the genre of the slave narrative;
12. Dec. 03. Some Theoretical Problems and Dilemmas of American Naturalism (Stephen Crane)
13. Dec. 10. Branches of regional humor and Mark Twain
14. Dec. 17. The great poets of the 19th century: Walt Whitman vs. Emily Dickinson

II. Criticism, Optional Background Readings:

1. Zsolt K. Virágos. Portraits and Landmarks: The American Literary Culture in the 19th Century. 2nd edition, Debrecen: IEAS, 2007.

2. Sarbu, Aladár. The Reality of Appearances: Vision and Representation in Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville. Budapest: Akadémia, 1996.

3. Lawrence, D. H. Studies in Classic American Literature. New York: Seltzer, 1923.

4. Matthiessen, F. O.. American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman London: Oxford UP, 1941.

5. Chase, Richard. The American Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst, MA: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1989.

6. Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. Stein and Day, 1960.

7. Slotkin, Richard. The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890. Oklahoma.: U of Oklahoma P, 1999.

8. Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.

9. Sundquist, Eric J. To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

10. Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Knopf, 1993.

III. Compulsory Readings for the end of the semester colloquium:


Edgar Allan POE, "The Raven," "Ulalume," "Annabel Lee," “To Helen," "The Conqueror Worm,"

Emily DICKINSON, poems numbered 49, 67, 214, 258, 303, 328, 341, 441, 449, 453, 478, 511, 585, 712, 829, 986, 1072, and 1175
Walt WHITMAN, "Song of Myself" (paragraphs 1-21, 24, 33, 40, 41, 51, 52), "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"


Edgar Allan POE, "The Purloined Letter," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "A Descent into the Maelström," "The Cask of Amontillado"
Nathaniel HAWTHORNE, "Young Goodman Brown," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux"
Herman MELVILLE, "Benito Cereno", "Bartleby, the Scrivener,"
Stephen CRANE, "The Open Boat," "The Blue Hotel," "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky"


Edgar Allan POE: “Poetic Principle”, "The Philosophy of Composition," Review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales
Ralph Waldo EMERSON: “Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” “The American Scholar,” “Divinity School Address,” “The Poet”
Henry David THORAU: “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.”
Walt WHITMAN: Preface to Leaves of Grass


Henry David THOREAU: Walden, or Life in the Woods (1845) (chapters II, and conclusion)
Nathaniel HAWTHORNE: The Scarlet Letter (1850)
Mark TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Stephen CRANE: The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

Frederick DOUGLASS: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Slave (1845) (selections)

Kate CHOPIN: The Awakening (1899)


Students are kindly requested to download and print the syllabi, and turn up at the first class of the courses with the hard copy of their syllabi. To download them, please click on the hyperlinks.

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