Mark Twain once offered an explanation for the Civil War that is as counterintuitive as it is provocative. "It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war," Twain wrote, "and it was he, also, that made those gentlemen value their bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them. Enough is laid on slavery, without fathering upon it these creations and contributions of Sir Walter. Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war." According to Twain, British novelist Walter Scott caused the Civil War, and he did so by telling stories.
This course takes as its point of departure Twain's infamous and puzzling comment. Our concern will be to examine his claim, testing its strength as a serious historical observation while at the same time considering how Twain's humor depended on the type of improbable and illogical paradox that his claim exemplifies. We will ask what it means to locate the origins of a major national conflict in literature, particularly literature that is not remotely concerned with either the nation or the conflict in question; we will ask, too, what happens when we displace explanations of political events onto art. More specifically, we will study Twain's claim that Scott's fictional explorations of English medieval chivalry, on the one hand, and of the Scottish Jacobite Rebellion, on the other, shaped the culture of the Southern states so profoundly that it led them into a devastating war.
Required Texts: (available at the Penn Book Center)
Burns, Ken, The Civil War (DVD)
Horwitz, Tony, Confederates in the Attic
Scott, Walter, Ivanhoe
Negri, Paul, ed., Civil War Poetry
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Twain, Mark, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Twain, Mark, Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
One short paper (5-7 pages), due October 25
One longer paper (10-12 pages), due December 11
One historical web posting (250-300 words, plus links), due October 20
Weekly weblog postings
An in-class presentation
Be sure to read the course policies carefully.
Schedule of Readings
Sept. 6 Introduction
Sept. 11 Twain, Chapters 40
from Life on
Sept. 13 In class: Twain exercise; background on Scott; outside class: read Ivanhoe
Sept. 18 In class: Scott's poetry; outside class: read Ivanhoe
Sept. 20 In class: Ivanhoe; outside class: watch Burns, episodes 1-3
Sept. 25 Ivanhoe; outside class: watch Burns, episodes 4-6
Sept. 27 Ivanhoe; outside class: watch Burns, episodes 4-6
Oct. 2 In class: Scott's Waverley; outside class: read Uncle
Tom's Cabin; watch Burns 7-9
Oct. 4 In class: Tennyson's Idylls of the King; outside class: Uncle Tom's Cabin; watch Burns, 7-9
Oct. 9 In class: Ken Burns; outside class: read Uncle Tom's
Oct. 11 In class: Ken Burns; outside class: read Uncle Tom's Cabin
Oct. 16 Uncle Tom's Cabin
Oct. 18 Uncle Tom's Cabin
Oct. 20 HISTORICAL BLOG POST DUE
Oct. 23 FALL BREAK
Oct. 25 FIRST ESSAY DUE
Oct. 30 In class: Whitman's war poetry; outside class: read
PRESENTATION: Lillian Ringel, "Louisa May Alcott"
PRESENTATION: Mallory Frye, "Lincoln"
Nov. 1 In class: Ambrose Bierce; outside class: read Huckleberry Finn
PRESENTATION: Anna Levett, "Scarlett O'Hara"
Nov. 6 In class: Huckleberry Finn; outside class: read
Nov. 8 In class: Huckleberry Finn, outside class: read Connecticut Yankee
PRESENTATION: Katie Newbold
PRESENTATION: Samantha Spencer, "Steamboat Culture"
Nov. 13 Connecticut Yankee
PRESENTATION: Mike Weingarth
Nov. 15 Connecticut Yankee
PRESENTATION: Kerry Golds, "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain"
Nov. 20 In class: Flannery O'Connor's "A Late Encounter with the Enemy;"
outside class: read Confederates in the Attic
PRESENTATION: Sherrie McGrann
PRESENTATION: Ellen Mossman
Nov. 22 NO CLASS: THANKSGIVING
Nov. 27 In class: war poetry; outside class: read Confederates in the
PRESENTATION: Amelia Sheehan, "Josephine Habersham Clay"
Nov. 29 Confederates in the Attic
PRESENTATION: Erica Beavers
Dec. 4 Confederates in the Attic
Dec. 6 Last day of class
Dec. 11 FINAL PAPER DUE