The American Renaissance and the Irish Revival (undergrad seminar)





Even after the United States became an independent nation, American culture continued to be dominated by Britain. Most American writers struggled, until well into the nineteenth century, with a sense of cultural inferiority and belatedness. Then suddenly, in the 1850s, on the eve of the Civil War, a new generation of American authors began to innovate in a number of genres: Dickinson in the lyric; Whitman in the epic; Hawthorne and Melville in the novel; Thoreau and Emerson in the essay. We now call this decade the American Renaissance, the period when American literature came into its own.


Something similar happened in Ireland, while it was still a colony of Britain. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, a group of nationalist scholars and authors challenged the dominance of Britain by recovering Irish language, literature, and culture—a challenge that was called the Irish Revival. The Irish Revival was oriented toward recovering the past, but it inspired authors looking toward the future: at the beginning of the twentieth century, on the eve of the Irish War of Independence, a new generation of authors began to re-work Irish subjects in modernist forms. The result is the poetry of Yeats, the novels of Joyce, and the dramas of Synge and O’Casey.


Writing in colonial and post-colonial contexts, these Irish and American authors inspired in turn writers from other colonies, among them Bharati Mukherjee (of India) and Derek Walcott (of St. Lucia).


In addition to demonstrating that national literatures emerge in transnational contexts, this course aims to develop students’ capacities to 1) analyze poetry, novels, dramas, and literary prose; 2) put literary works in historical contexts; and 3) enter into critical conversations about literary movements and periods.