Scandal! Corruption! The 19th-century American Novel

This course examines a series of late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American novels that respond to, critique, and rework major historical scandals—or constitute a scandal themselves. From Thomas Jefferson's rumored affair with a slave to the Grant-era Credit Mobilier corruption debacle, the nineteenth century witnessed a plethora of public, and publicized, ethical and legal transgressions, unfolding at the intersection of money, sex, and power. This syllabus includes novels that implicitly make a case for scandal, seeking to extend the duration of a particular controversy as an opportunity for critique. At the same time, we will discuss the negative effects of scandals: the erotophobia of the sex scandal, the foreclosure of debate, and the impossible demand for coherence that underlies at least some accusations of hypocrisy. Novels may include William Hill Brown’s /The Power of Sympathy/, Fanny Fern's /Ruth Hall/, and Henry Adams's /Democracy/. Critics may include Jacques Ranciere, Ari Adut, Michael Warner, and Jodi Dean.

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Wolff, Nathan