Elements of Literature Fifth Course
The American Renaissance: A Literary Coming of Age 1840–1860
A Literary Coming of Age
A Literature of Their Own
“Who reads an American book?” When English critic Sydney Smith posed this question in 1818, he assumed the answer was “nobody.” By the end of the American Renaissance, however, he might have changed his answer to “plenty of people.” Visit Gonzaga University for a look at the social and political events of the period. Then, zoom in on the writers and thinkers who were at the forefront of America’s literary renaissance.
Hawthorne and Melville: Opposites Attract
Fast Friends
A sudden rainstorm drove them both to shelter. By the time the rain stopped, their friendship had taken root. Seek your own literary shelter at The Life and Works of Herman Melville, where you can learn more about the famous friendship between Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Then, see if you can find the seeds of a literary coming-of-age in the letters that Melville and Hawthorne exchanged.
Intellectual and Social Life in New England
We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident
While Horace Mann was dedicating himself to improving public education and William Lloyd Garrison was fighting to abolish slavery, the women of Seneca Falls, New York, were busy organizing for their rights. Take a trip to Seneca Falls for a tour of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. While you’re there, take a look at Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments.”
The Transcendentalists: True Reality Is Spiritual
The Staggering Miracles of Nature
Not content with the conventional interpretations of life, death, and God, the Transcendentalists painted their own picture of the world as a living mystery, in which even a mouse was “a miracle enough to stagger quintillions of infidels.” Visit Perspectives in American Literature to find out why the Transcendentalists sought miracles in nature.
A Closer Look: That Was Then . . .
1846: Portrait of a Nation
In his will, James Smithson left the United States half a million dollars to establish an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” His wishes were honored with the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846. Today, the Smithsonian has dedicated a special exhibit to the year of its establishment. Head over to the National Portrait Gallery and see what American life was like in 1846.
Across the Web
Nineteenth-Century Bestsellers
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville weren’t the best-selling authors of their day; instead, that honor went to what Hawthorne described as a “mob of scribbling women.” Hawthorne blamed his lack of popularity among the reading public on the “trash” these women wrote. Head over to Scribbling Women to find out who these women were and what they were writing.

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