SoSe 15: The 99% in the Late Nineteenth Century: Literary Realism and Social Reform
Our current debates about wealth and income inequality, which recently have received a boost by Thomas Piketty’s influential Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), are often compared to the ... read more
Our current debates about wealth and income inequality, which recently have received a boost by Thomas Piketty’s influential Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), are often compared to the situation in America in the late 19th century: It has become commonplace to say that we are in a second Gilded Age. In this seminar, we will look at how issues of social inequality and social injustice – a glaring income gap, industrial labor conditions, racism, the suppression of women, and a rise in poverty, to name but a few - were dealt with in the literature of the late nineteenth century.
Then and now, social and economic inequality inspires protest and calls for reform. We will discuss how authors, shocked and alarmed about the social injustices in American society, turned to the genre of the realist novel, which was conceived of to be actively working for the social good, as an instrumental tool in the cause of reform. Reform was also a central concern in various other contemporary text forms, for example in Muckraking journalism and early sociological studies. All of these texts follow the idea that social problems have to be represented in a realist(ic) manner before they can be solved.
We will read shorter works by Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, and Andrew Carnegie, and, most importantly, we will look at how the issue of social reform is addressed in fiction – particularly in literary realism - by turning towards novels and short stories by Rebecca Harding Davis, Mark Twain, Henry James, William Dean Howells, and others. close