LITR 5431 Seminar in American Literature: Romanticism

lecture notes


Dr. McNamara's LITR 5431 American Literature: Realism seminar next semester will feature the following texts:

William Dean Howells, Silas Lapham

Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Charles W. Chesnutt, Marrow of Tradition

 and some short stories.




1. The Local Color movement, a.k.a. Regionalism, was concentrated in the Realistic period (late 19th-early 20th) centuries, but what Romantic features does it retain?






2. Local Color writers typically represent speech in dialect, which a hundred years later is discouraged by editors, publishers, and creative writing teachers. Why the change? Why did dialect as dialogue work then if not now?







3. Local Color writing is often attractive and appealing to readers but overlooked as a major movement. Why is it attractive but critically neglected?

teaching: attractions of specific genre with identifiable conventions










The White Heron

1 sentiment: little girl, valued companion cow

2 pre-industrial leisure

the hornéd torment

a good change for a little maid who had tried to grow for eight years in a crowded manufacturing town, but, as for Sylvia herself, it seemed as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm.

3 [Grandmother Mrs. Tillery; daughter to city with houseful of children]

the cat came to purr loudly, and rub against them, a deserted pussy, indeed, but fat with young robins

a beautiful place to live in, and she never should wish to go home.

4 She was not often in the woods so late as this, and it made her feel as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the moving leaves.

the great red-faced boy who used to chase and frighten her made her hurry

the shadow of the trees [gothic?]

5 a boy's whistle

6 the tall young man, who carried a gun

8 accident?

14 so clean and comfortable a little dwelling in this New England wilderness (domestic)

the best thrift of an old-fashioned farmstead, though on such a small scale that it seemed like a hermitage

15 she had buried four children, so that Sylvia's mother, and a son (who might be dead) in California were all the children she had left

a great wand'rer, I expect, and he's no hand to write letters

16 Dan an' his father they didn't hitch,—but he never held up his head ag'in after Dan had dared him an' gone off."

17 family sorrows

18 making a collection of birds

20 stuffed and preserved

23 the sea, the sea which Sylvia wondered and dreamed about, but never had looked upon, though its great voice could often be heard above the noise of the woods on stormy nights.

24 $10

26 would have liked him vastly better without his gun

the woman's heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love. Some premonition of that great power stirred and swayed these young foresters [archaic language]

28 a great pine-tree stood, the last of its generation

[29] What a spirit of adventure, what wild ambition! What fancied triumph and delight and glory for the later morning when she could make known the secret! It was almost too real and too great for the childish heart to bear.

30 she stole out of the house

Alas, if the great wave of human interest which flooded for the first time this dull little life should sweep away the satisfactions of an existence heart to heart with nature and the dumb life of the forest!

31 huge tree asleep yet in the paling moonlight

small and hopeful Sylvia began with utmost bravery to mount to the top

31 realistic nature details

32 higher and higher upward

[33] The tree seemed to lengthen itself out as she went up, and to reach farther and farther upward. It was like a great main-mast to the voyaging earth; it must truly have been amazed that morning through all its ponderous frame as it felt this determined spark of human spirit creeping and climbing its way from higher branch to branch.

[analogy & metaphor]

[34] Sylvia's face was like a pale star

Westward, the woodlands and farms reached miles and miles into the distance; here and there were church steeples, and white villages; truly it was a vast and awesome world. [sublime]

36 She knows his secret now.

39 Sylvia does not speak

40 now, when the great world for the first time puts out a hand to her, must she thrust it aside for a bird's sake?

she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.

41 loved him as a dog loves!


The Town Poor

3 Parsley (realistic detail; local name)

My cousin Ellen's husband (extended family)

his father's second wife's funeral

4 I wa'n't born up to Parsley."

9 a special Providence

11 They always had the name of bein' slack an' poor-spirited,

16 "He was a great favorite of our then preacher, the Reverend Daniel Longbrother.

16 he first repairs was made, when they got out the old soundin'-board* an' them handsome square pews**. It cost an awful sight o' money, too. They hadn't done payin' up that debt when they set to alter it again an' git the walls frescoed. My grandmother was one that always spoke her mind right out, an' she was dreadful opposed to breakin' up the square pews where she'd always set.

17 I remember the old [meeting] house well.

17 we was drawed to each other

[18] "When I think of them old sermons that used to be preached in that old meetin'-house of all, I'm glad it's altered over

19 A man ought to provide for his folks he's got to leave behind him, specially if they're women.

He might have took lessons from the squirrels

23 I don't know 's you're acquainted with Miss R'becca Wright. She's been out of town a good deal."

[24] "I heard she was stopping over to Plainfields with her brother's folks," replied Mrs. Janes, rocking herself with irregular motion, as she sat close to the stove. "Got back some time in the fall, I believe?"

[25] "Yes 'm," said Miss Rebecca, with an undue sense of guilt and conviction.

27 no gift at house or home keeping

[29] "I've always heard she [Mrs. Janes] was a great hand to make a poor mouth.

32 radiant joy

33 I've felt all day as if something good was goin' to happen, . . .  You see, the scissors stuck in the floor this very mornin' an' it's always a reliable sign.

34 the guests sat down, Mrs. Trimble, as was proper, in the one chair.

35 in the little back bedroom we had when we was girls, an' used to peek out at our beaux through the strings of mornin’-glories,"

36 their guests for the first time really comprehended the piteous contrast between that neat little village house, which now seemed a palace of comfort, and this cold, unpainted upper room in the remote Janes farmhouse.

36 the broken stove, the miserable bed, and the sisters' one hair-covered trunk, on which Mandana was sitting. But the poor place was filled with a golden spirit of hospitality.

38 that changes must come, an' we'd been so wonted [accustomed] to our home things

39 We need, each of us, a pair o' good stout shoes an' rubbers,

42 I believe I'm goin' to preach next Sunday, 'stead o' the minister, an' I'll make the sparks fly

43 you remember I was always a great hand to roam in the woods?

If we could only have a front room, so 't we could look out on the road an' see passin', an' was shod for meetin',

our sprigged chiny cups

44 in a glass dish, there was a little preserved peach

44 the taste of it carried her back, and made her feel young again

45 Then there was a silence, and in the silence a wave of tender feeling rose high in the hearts of the four elderly women.

48 we'll put it all back




Goophered Grapevine

[1] About ten years ago

10 making something out of it. (business development, industrialization)

11 but 'f I 'uz in yo' place, I wouldn' buy dis vimya'd. cf. UTC; Af Am slave as trickster figure

16 Annie was evidently much impressed, and drew closer to me.

[21] "Now, ef dey's an'thing a nigger lub, nex' ter 'possum, en chick'n, en watermillyums, it's scuppernon's. Dey ain' nuffin dat kin stan' up side'n de scuppernon' fer sweetness; sugar ain't a suckumstance ter scuppernon'. W'en de season is nigh 'bout ober, en de grapes begin ter swivel up des a little wid de wrinkles er ole age,—w'en de skin git sof' en brown,—den de scuppernon' make you smack yo' lip en roll yo' eye en wush fer mo'; so I reckon it ain' very 'stonishin' dat niggers lub scuppernon'. [precise description of grape = realistic detail]

ironizing sentimental stereotype

22 a settlement er free niggers en po' buckrahs [whites] down by de Wim'l'ton [Wilmington] Road [realistic detail, historical reality, + strangeness of truth or fact]

23 somehow er nudder dey couldn' nebber ketch none er de niggers

24 she wuz a witch 'sides bein' a cunjuh 'ooman (realistic detail, differentiation)

31 En bein' ez he fotch [fetched] her de ham, she fix' it so he kin eat all de scuppernon' he want.

33 de mos' cur'ouses' thing happen' in de fall, when de sap begin ter go down in de grapevimes. Fus', when de grapes 'uz gethered, de knots begun ter straighten out'n Henry's h'ar; en w'en de leaves begin ter fall, Henry's ha'r begin ter drap [drop] out; en w'en de vimes 'uz b'ar, Henry's head wuz baller 'n it wuz in de spring


44 dat Yankee done dug too close unde' de roots, en prune de branches too close ter de vime, en all dat lime en ashes done burn' de life outen de vimes

47 less than supportive

52 opportunities open to Northern capital in development of Southern industries