English 219

Professor Michael Drexler

The Art of Darkness

Office:  115 Vaughan Lit

Spring 2006

Phone:  577-1319

Vaughan Lit 103

T R 2:30 - 3:52

Email: mdrexler@bucknell.edu

Web: www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/mdrexler





Course Description

English 219 Selected American Authors: The Art of Darkness will consider the concept of blackness in the writings of Poe, Melville, Stowe, Twain, and W.E.B. Du Bois. We will read back onto the nineteenth century Dubois' assertion that the problem of the twentieth century would be the color-line. For more than half of the nineteenth century, America was a slaveholding society; for the remainder, racism and the legacy of slavery continued to be dominant social and political issues.  Looking at canonical American fiction from the nineteenth century (almost exclusively those written by white Americans), we will take up Toni Morrison's claim that the core characteristics of American culture--“individualism, masculinity, social engagement versus historical isolation; acute and ambiguous moral problematics; the thematics of innocence coupled with an obsession with figurations of death and hell”--took shape in response to an “abiding, signing Africanist presence” (Playing in the Dark 5). How did the fixation on blackness, and its implicit opposite whiteness, enable or limit American fiction writers' imagination? What happens when racial discourse is transferred to, worked through, and/or mystified by the field of aesthetic production? We will look at novels where race is an explicit concern as well as those where blackness is explored without direct reference to race or the institution of race slavery in America and the New World. 


Our focus on canonical white writers is not designed to obscure writing by black men and women throughout the nineteenth century.  From Richard Allen and Absalom Jones to Frederick Douglas, Martin Delany, Soujourner Truth, and W.E.B. Du Bois, black writers entered the public sphere of letters, both adopting and interrogating the shape of the broader American culture.  We will, in fact, read some selections from black protest literature and a short excerpt from Harriet Jacobs’ Life as a Slave Girl. And we will take note of figures like Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vessey, and Nat Turner who spoke through rebellion rather than the press to create the situation within which the writers we will cover worked.  Finally, toward the end of the semester, we will read several chapter from Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk, perhaps the first sustained consideration of the problem of race from out of the ashes of the Civil War and into the twentieth century.


Course Requirements and Policies

Grade Breakdown

Paper 1                        20%

Paper 2                        20%

Paper 3                        30%

Journal                         20%

Participation                 10%



You will write three papers during the semester.  The first two (1000-1500 words each) will be worth 20% of your final grade, while the last paper (2500-3000 words and due the day scheduled for our final exam) will be worth 30%.  You will have the opportunity to design your own projects for each of the writing assignments.  All three papers are to be analytic.  Only the final paper will require library research.  While not a research paper per se, you will be expected to cite at least 2 secondary sources (articles, book chapters, books), using them to build your own original readings of at least 2 of the readings from the course. All papers will be turned in electronically through BlackBoard using the Digital Dropbox feature.


Rewrite Policy

You may elect to rewrite papers 1 and 2.  To begin the rewrite process, you must meet with me to address your plans.  You will generally get one week to revise your paper.  And you must hand in the original draft with my comments along with the new paper.  Only substantially revised papers will receive a new grade.  You cannot lower your grade by doing a rewrite, but a higher grade is not guaranteed either.  If you do receive a higher grade, that grade will replace the original mark.



You will keep a journal comprising weekly 250-500 word responses to course readings or class discussion.  The journal must be submitted electronically via BlackBoard. After logging into BlackBoard, select "Course Materials" from the menu to the left. Then follow onscreen directions to submit your entry. You must submit your journal before class each Tuesday. Late responses will reduce your final journal grade by 1/3 of a letter. You may skip two weeks without penalty. Use your journal to generate questions for our in-class discussions and, as we near deadlines for formal writing assignments, to begin the writing process, trying out preliminary theses or commenting closely on specific passages from the readings.  Occasionally, I will give you a topic to write about for the next journal entry. Additionally I will assign each of you to a writing group. For Thursday's class, read the journals from your writing group and respond to at least one entry.


Attendance and Participation
1. Class attendance is compulsory.  You may miss two classes for any reason. I don’t need or want to see excuses. After the second absence, you will lose 1/3 a letter grade for each additional absence. If you miss 6 classes you will fail the course. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to find out whether there is an assignment due for the next class. And don’t ask me what you missed. Find a classmate, get the notes, and get the work done.

2. Participation--I expect active participation from everyone in class. To participate at the highest level, you must prepare the readings adequately. That means keeping a reading journal, marking key passages in your text, and bringing questions or comments with you to each and every class. There will also be opportunities to work in groups. Enthusiastic and supportive participation is expected. Please note that completion of in-class writing and take home assignments will be considered part of your participation grade. I don’t consider any of the work I’m asking of you to be “busy” work. The preparatory exercises, reading quizzes, and in-class writing assignments are designed to get you working on your formal essays. I may give short pop quizzes occasionally. 


Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s ideas without complete and proper citation of the material borrowed.  Ideas may come from books, articles, films, or the internet.  If you use someone else’s ideas, cite them.  Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.  Please familiarize yourself with Bucknell’s policies on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism.  Enrollment in this course will constitute acceptance of these policies.


Texts and Materials

Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, and Other Writings

Twain, Mark. Huck Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin

A Sturdy Folder

Several items are on ERES or will be handed out in class, see online syllabus at



Preliminary Schedule of Classes



Reading Assignment



Thur, Jan 19





Tues, Jan 24

Introduction II, A Brief Genealogy of Race and Racism in US Culture

Jordan, from White over Black (ERES)


Journal 1

Thur, Jan 26

from Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People During the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia (1794)

Hawthorne, “The Minister’s Black Veil



Tues, Jan 31

Gray, from The Confessions of Nat Turner, esp 1-7

Herbert Aptheker, "The Event"

David Walker, “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” (ERES)

Journal 2

Thur, Feb 2

Poe, “Murders in the Rue Morgue

Poe, "How to Write a Blackwood Article" in Pym 212-222

Frederick Douglass – Invisible Agency (handout)


Selected Bibliography:

Lemire, Elise. "'the Murders in the Rue Morgue': Amalgamation Discourses and the      Race Riots of 1838 in Poe's Philadelphia." Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race.      Ed. Kennedy, J. Gerald Liliane Weissberg. New York; London: Oxford UP, 2001.      177-204.

White, Ed. "The Ourang-Outang Situation." College Literature 30.3 (2003): 88-108.      <http://muse.uq.edu.au/journals/college_literature/v030/30.3white.html>.



Jefferson, Notes on the State of VA

Tues, Feb 7

Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym


Journal 3 

Thur, Feb 9

Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym



Tues, Feb 14

Melville, “Benito Cereno” 679-764


Journal 4 

Thur, Feb 16

Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener” 639-678


Paper #1 Due to BlackBoard

Follow Paper Writing Guide Guidelines for formatting; but the file should be named [Last Name_Paper1.doc]

Tues, Feb 21



Journal 5 

Thur, Feb 23

Melville, Moby-Dick



Tues, Feb 28



Journal 6 

Thur, Mar 2

No Class



Tues, Mar 7



Journal 7 

Thur, Mar 9




Tues, Mar 21

Frederickson, “Uncle Tom and the Anglo-Saxons: Romantic Racialism in the North” in Stowe, 429-438

Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1-100

 Link to Railton: Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture

Journal 8 

Thur, Mar 23

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 100-190



Tues, Mar 28

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, V II


Journal 9 

Thur, Mar 30

Tompkins, “Sentimental Power,” in Stowe, 501-522

Gossett, “Anti-Uncle Tom Literature,” in Stowe, 442-453


Paper #2 Due to BlackBoard

Follow Paper Writing Guide Guidelines for formatting; but the file should be named [Last Name_Paper2.doc]

Tues, Apr 4

Twain, Huck Finn

Additional Resources:  Mark Twain In His Times


Journal 10 

Thur, Apr 6

Huck Finn



Tues, Apr 11

Huck Finn

Jonathan Arac, "Why Does No One Care about the Aesthetic Value of Huckleberry Finn?"

Research Proposal for Final Paper Due to BlackBoard

File should be named [Last Name_Proposal.doc]

Thur, Apr 13

Pudd’nhead Wilson

Additional Resources:  Mark Twain In His Times



Tues, Apr 18

Pudd’nhead Wilson


Journal 11 

Thur, Apr 20

Pudd'nhead Wilson



Tues, Apr 25

Charles Chesnutt, from The Conjure Woman,

The Goophered Grapevine” and “Sis’ Becky’s Pickaninny

Uncle Remus website


Journal 12 

Thur, Apr 27

Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk



Tues, May 2

The Souls of Black Folk 

Final Paper Due no later than May 10--submit Hard Copy to my mailbox in the English Department Office