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Melodrama Unchained: Genre and Style in Western Narrative since 1800

Semester and Year FA 2015
Course Number IDSEM-UG1749
Section 001
Instructor Karen Hornick
Days MW
Time 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   HUM



What do Jane Austen and  Empire  have in common? The forms taken by stories since the Industrial Revolution changed in tandem with shifts in the organization of work and leisure. Melodrama and realism, the major genres/styles of this period, have often been seen as antagonistic toward each other. In this class, however, we’ll follow up on recent suggestions that both modes always co-exist even though melodramatic and realistic texts so clearly differ in ostensible purpose, effect, and audience. Melodrama, for example, promotes conventionality but subversively celebrates the felt over the known and thereby speaks an otherwise unspeakable truth. Realism, in contrast, was developed to criticize a world that can be known and articulated, and yet the form tends to isolate the individual while failing to promote collectivity. Class readings will enable us to consider melodrama and realism as responses to or consequences of the key changes said to characterize Western modernity: the loss of common belief in the universal and metaphysical; the newfound role of the machine in relation to art; shifts in the political meaning of race, class, gender, and sexuality; and the philosophical arguments that emerged from the tension between the “Age of Enlightenment” and “Discovery of the Unconscious.” The syllabus, in addition to a few basic critical works on this topic (James Baldwin, Linda Williams, Lauren Berlant), may include: early examples of melodramatic plays and fiction; examples of sensation fiction and plays; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s  Uncle Tom’s Cabin , Henrik Ibsen’s  Hedda Gabler ; Fannie Hurst’s  Imitation of Life  and Douglas Sirk’s film version; a comparative analysis of Sirk’s  All that Heaven Allows , Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s   Ali:  Fear Eats the Soul,  and Todd Haynes’s  Far from Heaven.  Students will have the opportunity to propose other texts as our ideas develop.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)