LITR 5431 Seminar in American Literature: Romanticism

lecture notes



Discussion Questions for reading assignments: Writing only 6-7 years after Sleepy Hollow & Rip Van Winkle, how is Mohicans more Romantic? 

Mission: relate Romantic forms to American history / culture (> new objective in formation)

Literature as escape or engagement? entertainment or uplift? 

How does Mohicans use the gothic (esp. its color code) to explore American race relations and taboos?

How does Romance explore the unknown as Realism may not? What's socially desirable about escaping or exceeding reality?


  • Besides cartoons and movies, how and why does everyone know the stories of Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, even if never read before?

  • Sleepy Hollow 6, 24,

  • Rip Van Winkle 30, 31



RVW 7-8, 12 (Mrs. VW), 21-2 (drunkenness)



RVW 17

captivity narrative RVW 48

Henry Hudson 55




RVW [13] Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his only alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods.

Sleepy Hollow 8 Rip comical

14 female circle, country damsels

20 Katrina

21a soft and fo heart

26 romance quest, knight-errant + lady of his heart

31 how women's hearts are wooed and won

32 knights-errant of yore

35 in the true spirit of romantic story

47 border chivalry

54 something must have gone wrong



RVW 15 classic ghost story moment

RVW 30, 31 satire



RVW 7-8, 12 (Mrs. VW), 21-2 (drunkenness)



RVW 17

captivity narrative RVW 48

Henry Hudson 55



Rip Van Winkle

1 change

1 sublime

3 hen-pecked husband

4 stories of ghosts, witches, and Indians

5 aversion to all kinds of profitable labor

6 comic farm

10-11 stories, great tree

13 his only alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods

15 ghost story

16 strange figure slowly toiling up the rocks

17 sublime

19 spirits in nature

21 other ghost story option

25 The rocks presented a high impenetrable wall over which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad deep basin, black from the shadows of the surrounding forest. [<brief touches of sublime & gothic<]

26 dress, too, was of a different fashion

27 The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous. There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors—strange faces at the windows—everything was strange.

28 the house gone to decay [gothic]

30 the village inn—but it too was gone

31 rights of citizens*—elections—members of congress—liberty*—Bunker’s Hill*—heroes of seventy-six*

32 a loyal subject of the king, God bless him!”

36 There was a wooden tombstone in the church-yard that used to tell all about him, but that’s rotten and gone too.” [gothic]

41 sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer puzzled him too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time [irony: not that much time has passed for all these changes],

43 He doubted his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man.

[44] “God knows,” exclaimed he, at his wit’s end; “I’m not myself—I’m somebody else




1 One of the quietest places in the world

4 vicinity of a church

6 fixed x torrent of immigration and improvement

8 humorous description of Ichabod

16 satire, limits of human mind

27 Brom as proto-Romantic hero but here stock for satire

33 sentimental stereotype (appropriate to satire) + 46

36 Gunpowder

39 abundance

49 shifting throng of population

55, 56 correspondence

56 gothic of past crime

57 wilderness gothic

59 huge, misshapen, and towering + gloom

62 whitewashed church




1.21 Historical fiction

1.19, 21 Alice & Cora

2.5 gothic secret, "some strange accident"

2.8 narrow and blind path

2.12 distrust b/c skin is dark?

2.13 dark-eyed Cora

2.21 secret path

2.30 gothic forest





1.4 pictorial

1.6 historical fiction

1.7 George Washington

1.8 captivity narrative cf. RVW 48

1.8-1.9 shift from history to fiction > 1.13 two females [+ cinematic]

1.17 Indian runner + Byronic marker

1.19 two females

1.21 light-dark + sublime  > 2.12


2.2 romantic rhetoric in dialogue

2.3 plot outrage

2.5 preview of Magua's past

2.12 skin is dark

2.13 dark and tangled pathway [wilderness gothic]

2.21 secret path

2.29 cf. Ichabod and forest

2.30 suspense + gothic forest



What about these stories is essentially American and appeals to American readers?

Identify the gothic, the sublime, and correspondence in Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow, and Mohicans

gothic: Mohicans 

gothic: RVW 26, 28 (cabin), 36 tomb marker

gothic: Sleepy Hollow 5 (that region of shadows), 17 ghosts and goblins, 49 tales of ghosts and apparitions, 51 dark and light of gothic, 56 tree, 57 groan, 58 cavernous gloom, 69 schoolhouse haunted

sublime: Mohicans 

sublime: RVW 1, 17, 26,

sublime: Sleepy Hollow 59 something huge, misshapen & towering [+ gothic], 61,

correspondence: Mohicans 

correspondence: RVW

correspondence: Sleepy Hollow 55, 56

Historicism: How do we learn history from fiction, and how does fiction reshape history?

Sleepy Hollow is early Romanticism, but also late Classical-Enlightenment, esp. in its use of Satire. How is the characterization satirical? Why isn't Romanticism usually funny?

presentation on Satire

sentimental stereotypes

Sleepy Hollow 33, 46