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BrANCA Reading Group: “Histories Of and In Nineteenth-Century American Literature” (University of Nottingham)
September 18, 2015
A reminder that the fourth British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists’ Reading Group will take place on September 18 at Nottingham University. The deadline for expressions of interest in PG student bursaries is 18 August.
“Histories Of and In Nineteenth-Century American Literature”
University of Nottingham
18 September 2015, 1.00-5.00pm
Readings: John Neal, Rachel Dyer: A North-American Story (1828)
[New and second hand copies of the Prometheus Books (1996) facsimile edition are widely available online, and a digitization of the 1828 Shirley and Hyde edition can be downloaded at the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/stream/racheldyeranort00nealgoog)] > Paul Gilmore. ‘John Neal, American Romance, and International Romanticism’. American Literature, 84.3 (2013 Sept): 477-504.
> Sandra Gustafson. ‘What’s in a Date? Temporalities of Early American Literature’. PMLA, 128.4 (2013 Oct): 961-967.
> Joseph Rezek. ‘Introduction’ from London and the Making of Provincial Literature: Aesthetics and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1800-1850. Philadelphia: U Penn Press, 2015.
> Jordan Alexander Stein. ‘American Literary History and Queer Temporalities’. American Literary History 25.4 (2013): 855-869.
N.B. Participants may also wish to look at the ‘Just Teach One’ website [http://www.common-place.org/justteachone/] for background on the place of Early American texts in historical survey courses.
I would call the attention of our novel-writers and our novel-readers to what is undoubtedly native and peculiar, in the history of our Fathers; I would urge them to believe that though there is much to lament in that history, there is nothing to conceal – John Neal, Preface to Rachel Dyer, 1828.
Despite the various “turns” that have occurred since the “Re-Turn to History” of the 1980s, literary studies has never really managed to leave history and historicism in the past. If anything, the recent growth in archival approaches and in digital archives has cemented the centrality of historical methods to literary studies, even as the digital substitute invites reflection on the solidity of context and evidence. History also occupied an ambivalent position in nineteenth-century literary culture. The writing of history flourished in antebellum America, through the works of figures like William Hickling Prescott and George Bancroft, who found popularity both at home and abroad. Yet writers of fiction and poetry struggled with the problems of an American history that seemed at once too fleeting and too weighty, both “native and peculiar” and inseparable from global frameworks.
The fourth BrANCA reading group will address the place of history in nineteenth-century American writing, and in its study. These debates will be focussed through the work of John Neal, a prolific novelist and combative literary critic, whose thematically idiosyncratic and formally challenging works have begun to gain renewed attention in recent years. Our primary text will be Neal’s long-neglected historical novel Rachel Dyer: A North-American Story – a fictional account of the Salem Witch Trials, first published in 1828. Exploring the historical novel as a genre, we will ask which histories of America did Neal and other early nineteenth-century writers use, and to what ends, and why did some of these narratives become canonical where others faded from view? In explicitly interrogating the relationship between history and fiction, Neal’s novel provides an ideal opportunity to discuss the frictions and intersections of these two modes of writing.
The reading group will also reflect upon the limits of historicism as a methodology, and of current periodizations of the nineteenth-century – a conversation particularly relevant to Neal, whose writings span seven decades, stretching from the Early Republic to Reconstruction. Are there ways in which we can rethink familiar contextualizations, and construct alternative temporalities? As a popular author who is now little read, Neal also invites us to explore what and who we “conceal” in our current critical and pedagogical models of the century. Finally, we will examine the relationship between literature, history and nation, and consider the extent to which writing an American literary history is possible or desirable – for nineteenth-century authors, and for critics today.
The reading group will be held in the city of Nottingham a short distance from Nottingham train station. Details and further directions will be forwarded to participants closer to the time. If you plan to attend, have any questions, or need copies of the secondary readings please contact Dr Katie McGettigan at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr Matthew Pethers at email@example.com