ENG 302: American Psycho: Madness in Nineteenth-Century America

Dr. Rebhorn 3 credits

         As much as the American nineteenth century was defined by the innovation and growth of the industrialized nation—the inventions of the steam ship, for instance, as well as the telegraph and trans-continental railroad, among others—this boom also had a dark underside. Rising crime rates, particularly in the metropoles, the publication of conduct manuals, and the birth of the American asylum, both complicate the story of American progress as simply progressive, and suggest that the origins of certain celebrated types of American individualism occurred simultaneously with the beginnings of various forms of American madness. This course explores this dynamic by focusing on a range of literary texts that represent madness as the underside to what Ralph Waldo Emerson called American “self-reliance.” By reading works by Poe, Bird, Melville, Brown, James, and others, through medical theories of madness, histories of the asylum, and lurid reports from the penny press, this course ultimately aims to paint a fuller, richer, and more nuanced picture of what it meant to be “American” in the nineteenth century. NB: While a previous knowledge of the period is not required, GENG 247 is highly recommended. This course fulfills the requirement for a 400-level seminar AND the pre-1900 overlay for the English major.

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