English 158A - Spring, 2023

The American Novel to 1900

Class Information

Instructor: Badley, Chip
CRN: 62115
Time: TR 4:40-6:00pm
Location: 55 Resslr
GE Areas: American Cultures, Governance, and History Writing Experience


Although the term "the Great American Novel" is well known today, few are likely to know its origin as a phrase coined, by the largely forgotten Civil War veteran and writer John William De Forest, in 1868. At the time, according to De Forest, "the Great American Novel" had yet to be written. When it finally appears, he argues, it would offer "the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence." Our class will explore the history of the "Great American Novel" throughout the long nineteenth century. We'll explore the cultural work of the novel across a variety of historical contexts. First, we will consider how crises over political sovereignty and rational thinking shaped Hannah Webster Foster's seduction tale, The Coquette (1797), as well as Charles Brocken Brown's gothic novel, Edgar Huntly (1799). Then, we'll investigate how race, slavery, and settler colonialism influenced two domestic sentimental novels: William Wells Brown's antebellum romance, Clotel (1853), and Maria Ruiz de Burton's Reconstruction-era satire, Who Would Have Thought It? (1872). Finally, we will study three novels that grapple with the fractured myth of a unified American identity: Mark Twain's boy's tale, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Sarah Orne Jewett's story-cycle novella, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), and Frank Norris' Naturalist city novel, McTeague (1899). Students can expect to learn more about the cultural work of the "Great American Novel" during a century's worth of tension, conflict, reconciliation, and repair.


The Coquette, Hannah Webster Foster
Edgar Huntly, Charles Brockden Brown
Clotel, William Wells Brown
Who Would Have Thought It?, Mar?a Ruiz de Burton
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett
McTeague, Frank Norris