Extended Descriptions for Undergraduate Courses
English 495: The Literature of Twain and James (Dennis Cutchins)
Sam Clemens was born in 1835 and died in 1910. Henry James was born in 1843 and died in 1916. Despite the fact that they were contemporaries, were both realists, published their work in the same magazines, shared many of the same friends, and at least occasionally concerned themselves with the same subject matter, Henry James and Mark Twain are about as opposite as two writers can be. Stylistically, thematically, and even in terms of their world-views these two writers were very different men. James seemed to feel, for instance, that poor people, people who were really struggling to put the next meal on the table, were not good subjects for his brand of psychological realism because they did not have the kind of complex inner life that he felt was important. They simply didn’t have the capacity or the time to develop any real sensitivity. Rich folks, for him, with all their faults, were not worried about their next meal. They had time to become educated. They had time to travel and to appreciate art. They could attend concerts and lectures. They could, in short, enlarge their capacity for everything. If a well-educated and intelligent person of refinement was in love then that love was likely to be a more intense and more sophisticated kind of love. It would not be just lust, any animal (or poor person) could feel that. Rather this would probably be a higher, more delicate, more rare kind of feeling. The same would be true for any other kind of emotion.
Twain’s subject matter suggests that he felt very differently. The pages of his works are filled with scoundrels, rogues and working class poor. Twain considered these folks worthy of being portrayed in literature, and the reading public responded by lionizing Twain. His lectures were regularly standing room only, and his novels always sold well. In virtually every public move Twain spurned the kind of elitism that James wholeheartedly embraced. Despite the fact that he earned and lost several fortunes in his lifetime, Twain always considered himself a writer both of the people and for the people.
Differences aside, these two men actually had a few things in common. Their individual use of point of view, for instance, is surprisingly similar. Both Twain and James often used central narrators through whom ideas and opinions are both filtered and conveyed. Both men were ostensibly realists and worked to create what they considered objective truths in their novels and short stories, but both men were also intrigued by the supernatural. Both men wrote about the American experience in Europe, though their opinions about that experience were very different. And both men were critical of American materialism.
English 495: The Contemporary Memoir (Joey Franklin)
Thomas Larson, author of The Memoir and the Memoirist, wrote that in the 1980s “memoir burst forth sui generis from the castle of autobiography and the wilds of the personal essay.” He calls memoir “an American form” and suggests a study of the genre requires a mix of “criticism, psychology, reflection, essay, [and] historical and cultural contexts.” Using Larson’s book as a starting point, and supplementing it with additional significant writing on the genre, we will explore the memoir as both a literary genre and cultural artifact. We will read 4 memoirs that mark important moments in the contemporary development of the genre and we will write critically and creatively about the role of memoir in literature, popular culture, and our own self-discovery.