HENK0361CU Engelsk - Frit emne: American Bestsellers, 1852-1936

Årgang 2013/2014
Engelsk titel

English - free topic:American Bestsellers, 1852-1936

Ranging across eight decades of American literary history, we will read a diverse group of novels that were astounding best-sellers in their day. These books, avidly consumed by readers throughout the US and abroad, not only shaped the formulation of popular genres such as children’s literature, the western, and detective fiction, but also shaped the way Americans conceived of pressing issues like racial relations and changing gender roles.
The list might be adapted, but we will begin with Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and end with Gone with the Wind (1936). Readings along the way include “The Song of Hiawatha,” Little Women, Trilby, Riders of the Purple Sage, Tarzan, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
The work of authors such as Henry James or Emily Dickinson is the more usual object of university study, “hard” texts that we can only fully understand with professional instruction. Books read “for fun” are left out. Yet such texts--now sometimes referred to as middlebrow--by far dominated Americans’ reading.
Studying middlebrow texts help us better understand the high literary, by way of contrast, and also the processes by which some texts get canonized and others left out. However, they are also important in their own right. That a text is accessible does not mean that its ideas and arguments are not complex. Together, we will explore the various satisfactions of these texts and the diverse ways in which they signify. We will also consider the cultural work they did, investigating how they helped direct urgent conversations of their day--about race, class, gender, nation, region, and culture itself. Finally, we will attempt to answer the (perhaps unanswerable) question of what makes an American best-seller.
Many of these books are on the long side. Yet they are also page-turners--fun to read--and hopefully this will compensate. The novels will be contextualized with short secondary readings, including material about their production and reception
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7,5 ECTS
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