This module will introduce you to American literature and ask you to consider its wider significance in American culture. As the title would suggest the idea of the literary classic plays a key part but rather than simply accept that some texts are ‘classics’ and others aren’t, the module prompts you to consider what it is that makes a classic. What social and cultural ideas get reinforced when certain texts are named classics?
The first text you’ll read is Solomon Northup’s 1853 text Twelve Years a Slave. Two tips here: 1) don’t think you’ll be able to get away with just watching the film! and 2) buy the (cheap) Wordsworth Edition of the text which includes module leader Dr Colin Harrison’s introduction to the text. Studying a slave narrative to begin a module on American literature will kick off all of those discussions about classics, how, for example, does American literary history change if considered amongst its most important works are those written by slaves?
For each text you study you will look at the text, the context in which it was written, and its critical history, thinking about the way historical conditions impact a work and how its meaning and reception changes over time. You’ll also study Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (1905), Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), and Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems (1964). Look out for posts on the latter two texts by T.E.A superfans! Hopefully some of you will be inspired to share your love for Northup and Wharton on here soon too…
The assessment for this module comes in the well loved forms of one 1500 word essay (on either Twelve Years a Slave or House of Mirth) and one 2 hour exam (on Lolita and Lunch Poems). Don’t panic, you will receive all the preparatory information you need closer to the time on both of these and T.E.A will post their top essay and exam tips also!
It’s a very exciting time to be studying American Literature at LJMU as the university has recently partnered with Southern Connecticut State University across the pond! Check out the posts about this and do consider whether you might like to spend part of your degree over there-I was lucky enough to spend some time there this summer and can confirm that it’s amazing, especially for English students so keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to visit. You may also get the chance to take part in a fun ‘transatlantic seminar’ discussion with students at SCSU as part of this module, it’s all very thrilling I tell you!
For now make a start on reading the texts, and get thinking about what you think makes a classic! One of these perhaps…
-Katie and T.E.A