Unit 4: The Development of the Novel and its Various Forms
Just as the short story emerged as a new literary form due to cultural, social, and economic changes, the novel moved from being regarded as sub-literary to being the most popular form by the end of the era. Works by writers such as Hawthorne continue to stand among the greatest novels in world history, while those by authors such as George Thompson and Fanny Fern gained unprecedented popularity by mining sensational and sentimental subgenres. In this unit, you will learn about the genre of the novel as it rose in popularity during the American Renaissance.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 24 hours.
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:
- connect the rise of literacy, the creation of "common" schools in the US, and the implementation of copyright laws to the expansion and development of the market for reading materials like the novel;
- identify the motives and logistics of the founding of Indian Boarding Schools and articulate the methodology such schools used to "educate" Native children;
- summarize the development of the novel in the antebellum period;
- differentiate among key sub-genres of the novel, specifically the romance, sensational literature, and domestic-sentimental fiction, listing their key features and examples;
- describe Hawthorne's definition of the romance as it differs from the novel;
- analyze Hawthorne's portrayal of Puritan New England in The Scarlet Letter in terms of the romance genre, Transcendentalism, and antebellum US society;
- classify key features of Lippard and Thompson's sensationalism and explain its popularity; and
- analyze Fern's description of the antebellum publishing scene and her deployment of key sentimental tropes.
4.1: The Establishment of American Publishers and the Passage of Copyright Laws
Publishing saw extensive change in the United States from 1820 to 1860. Read this piece to learn about some of the innovations in this industry.
Copyright laws were established as the American publishing industry changed. Read through this article to see how copyright influenced publishing and writing.
4.2: The Rise of Literacy and Public Education in the Young Republic
Changes in publishing and copyright relate to the ways that literacy rates rose during this period. Read this data-driven piece about the advances in the country's literacy rates during the American Renaissance.
The earliest public schools were established in the nineteenth century and were known as "common schools", a term coined by American educational reformer Horace Mann that refers to the aim of these schools to serve individuals of all social classes and religions. Read these sections to get a sense of how public education and learning got its start during this period.
In the 19th century, it became clear that the Native Americans would either face extermination or "civilization". In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Americans built an all-encompassing system of Indian academies. These academies were largely funded by Congress and increasingly controlled from Washington. These schools were primarily residential, boarding institutes. Their goal was to instruct Indian children in white ways or to get rid of native tribal cultures. Attempts to educate the Indians were based on the ideals of assimilation or nothing at all. Policymakers never took into account that Native Americans had their own set of skills and intellect that they could bring to the table. In general, the system of mass education, not only for Native Americans but for other immigrants, has been based around deculturation and not integration. Many of these boarding schools used violence as a way of controlling Native children. Upon entrance to the schools, Native children were stripped of their tribal clothing, hairstyles, and anything they brought with them and were instructed not to speak their tribal languages. Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, is known for his philosophy "kill the Indian to save the man". Read this essay to learn more about the the founding of these types of schools and the their practices.
4.3: The Popularity of the Novel
As you can probably tell by now, the period before the start of the Civil War has great reason to be called "The American Literary Renaissance". A variety of literary forms crystallized during this time of great social, historical, and economic change. In order to learn more about another literary form that rose in popularity during this time, read this brief history of the American novel tradition.
Building on the previous essay, read this article to trace the changes in the novel form across time. This article shows how the novel is only one category of fiction. Take notes on this, as it offers terminology that will help you as you progress through the course.
4.4: The Romance and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Fiction also includes the "romance" genre. Writers and readers during this time had a different understanding of the "romance" than we have today. Read Hawthorne's preface to The House of the Seven Gables to understand how Hawthorne differentiates between the novel and the romance.
Read The Scarlet Letter, starting with "The Preface" and "The Custom-House". In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne offers his famous definition of the romance as opposed to the novel. He continues to develop this definition in "The Custom-House", his long introduction to this most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, which was published in 1850. As you read, think about its narrative structure. Pay special attention to the scaffold scenes. How many are there? Who is in these scenes? How would you define these symbols and/or characters: representations of Church and State, the world of evil, the scarlet letter, the number 3, the punishing scaffold, and the kiss?
Examine this lesson plan, and read through it as if you are a participant in a class in which the teacher or professor is asking you to engage in these activities. In doing these assignments, you will examine the characters' motivations, conflicts, and cultural influences in The Scarlet Letter. By stepping into the shoes of the characters, you will get a better sense of what they each struggled with in their society.
Sentimentalism and sensationalism are the interrelated poles of the popular literature rejected by American literary history until the last few decades. Sensationalism refers to texts that provide sexual titillation, evoke terror, and represent disturbing and unusual behavior and images merely to create a reaction in readers. Texts in this category also often focused on the social conditions that surrounded urban crime and immorality. It drew on and grew out of the literary Gothic that you read about previously. Read this introduction to sensationalism in the antebellum period.
As this article states:
"For most of the past two centuries, 'sentimentalism' has been used pejoratively to refer to a tendency towards overt emotionalism in literature and other cultural forms, an evocation of sympathy based on the most common-placed and clichéd situations and images. [...] According to the older tradition, as the country modernized, becoming more market-oriented and urbanized, popular taste withdrew into the pleasure of an easy emotionalism, feelings of nostalgia and sympathy that allowed people to feel an untroubled connection to characters and to avoid the deep intellectual puzzles and problems that the true literature of the period addressed. Such a view provided a foundation for many critics to dismiss much of the most popular literature of the period, especially literature written by women, as women authors and readers were seen as particularly emotional."
To learn more about the characteristics critics used during this time to distinguish between serious literature and sentimental novels, read this article.
Read Ruth Hall, the autobiographical novel by one of the most famous authors of the era, Fanny Fern, the pseudonym of Sara Payson Willis. Willis' novel, as with much of her writing, both embraces and critiques domestic ideology. She defends her autobiographical heroine's foray into the public world of publishing in terms of her role as a mother, while simultaneously revealing, with caustic wit and satire, the hypocrisy of those who object to women taking a more active role in financially providing for themselves and their families. As such, her novel does not fit squarely within the category of domestic sentimental fiction but rather delineates some of the populist ideas behind such fiction as well as their limits.
Unit 4 Assessment
- Receive a grade
Take this assessment to see how well you understood this unit.
- This assessment does not count towards your grade. It is just for practice!
- You will see the correct answers when you submit your answers. Use this to help you study for the final exam!
- You can take this assessment as many times as you want, whenever you want.