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Angels in the House: Domestic Ideology and Sentimental Fiction

Class at Faculty of Arts |



This course will examine the cultural aims of sentimental fiction in America and Britain. In particular, we´ll endeavor to interpret the domestic "angel" broadly, as a Victorian icon "housebound" yet not necessarily "housebroken." Is the sentimental ingénue simply the submissive mouthpiece of bourgeois discipline, or can we read her as a guardian ofhumanistic values and individualism against the instrumental social relations of the market? In what sense does the sentimental novel construct the feminine "domestic sphere" as a radical alternative to the "male" world of politics and capital, transferring moral authority from public to private life?

Along with works of sentimental fiction, we´ll read several anti-domestic narratives. This comparatist approach will help us to consider the links between sentimentality and realism and to ask what nineteenth century genres might be identified in part as reactions to domestic ideology (Poe´s detective story, James´ incipient modernism?). Can we view the linguistic turn of modernism as a backlash against the evangelical imperatives of sentimental literature, its resolve to reform (perhaps even to "feminize") the world beyond writing?


Uncle Tom´s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Wide, Wide World (excerpts), Susan Warner

The Blithedale Romance, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Pierre, Herman Melville

"Berenice," Edgar Allan Poe

"The Black Cat," Edgar Allan Poe

"Ligeia," Edgar Allan Poe

"Eleonora," Edgar Allan Poe

"Morella," Edgar Allan Poe

"Loss of Breath," Edgar Allan Poe

"The Mystery of Marie Roget," Edgar Allan Poe

The Spoils of Poynton, Henry James

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Dracula, Bram Stoker

Middlemarch (excerpts), George Eliot

The Woman in White (excerpts), Wilkie Collins

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskel

Critical Readings (Selections)

Arendt, Hannah. "The Private and the Public Realm."

Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction.

Brodhead, Richard H. "Sparing the Rod: Discipline and Fiction in Antebellum America."

Brown, Gillian. Domestic Individualism: Imagining Self in Nineteenth-Century America.

Cherniavsky, Eva. "Revivification and Utopian Time: Poe Versus Stowe."

Douglas, Ann. The Feminization of American Culture.

Elmer, Jonathan. "Terminate or Liquidate? Poe, Sensationalism, and the Sentimental Tradition."

Gilbert, Sandra & Susan Gubar. The Mad Woman in the Attic.

Halttunen, Karen. Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America.

McHugh, Kathleen. American Domesticity.

Sennet, Richard. "Dead Public Space." The Fall of Public Man.

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own.

Smith-Rosenberg, Carrol. Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America.


One mid-term essay, one final essay (each 7 pages). Active participation in discussion. Each student will make one brief seminar presentation.

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