Short Fiction: From Stories to Sitcoms

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Course Number: 
ENGL 103 920
Instructor: 

MULLANEY, CLARE R

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Course Description: 

What makes short forms of fiction appealing?  This course will consider how and why the short story became a distinctly American genre at the start of the nineteenth century.  Exploring what Henry James called the “thinness” of American literature, we will ask:  why was the short form—which emphasized compactness, brevity, and singularity—particularly suited to expressing national life and culture in the U.S.?  How did modes of publishing the short story change throughout time—from the periodical press to the anthology and even television?  And how does the short story engage in conversations about gender, race, class, and disability?  In addition to reading a number of critical essays on the short story, we will survey some of the major short story writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, including:  Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Conner, and James Baldwin.  The second half of the course will look at the history of both radio and television sitcoms to consider how the short story form has adapted beyond just textual mediums.  In addition to listening to early radio broadcasts from the 1920s, we will watch selected episodes from the Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Cheers, Seinfeld, Parks & Recreation, and The Middle, to name just a few.  Requirements will include a series of short research exercises, three short papers, and a creative project.  

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