Just Teach One

Filial Piety in C & P

Kacy Dowd Tillman

University of Tampa

I taught The History of Constantius and Pulchera in my upper-level undergraduate course, “Crossdressers, Coquettes, and Libertines.” Thirteen students (primarily English majors) and I read it the second week of class to prepare to study fiction in the long eighteenth century, namely The Power of Sympathy, Charlotte Temple, The Coquette, Wieland, Ormond, Female Quixotism, and The Female Marine.  At first, the students did not believe me when I told them what they could expect from Constantius and Pulchera.  Crossdressing? Near-cannibalism? Shipwrecks? Bears? To a group of people who thought all early American literature read like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” this was an interesting, scandalous, and surprising text.

Pleasures of Plot

Martha Rojas

University of Rhode Island

This semester I included The History of Constantius & Pulchera in my undergraduate survey course of colonial and U.S. literature to 1855 where it proved to be a mid-semester sensation. The course is required of students double majoring in English and Secondary Education. It also meets General Education requirements and thus attracts both a cohort of similarly trained students as well as a significant number of students from a variety of disciplines, all at various points in their academic career. In their spoken and written comments students almost invariably reported the pleasure they took in reading The History of Constantius & Pulchera. To some degree that was to be expected as the syllabus turned to include more prose fiction along with narratives, poems, sermons, letters, and documents. Yet their enthusiasm differed from that generated by The Coquette with which I paired The History of Constantius & Pulchera, and seemed greater than that which in other iterations of the course had met Wieland, or Charlotte Temple. (more…)

Amelia in the digitally-archived republic of letters

Brian Sweeney

The College of St. Rose

I adopted Amelia for my 200-level course Sympathy and the Early American Novel, one I have offered several times at The College of Saint Rose.  This course, open to English majors and non-majors alike, introduces undergraduates to early national U.S. literature and culture while inviting them to think in a sustained way about sentimental aesthetics and the ethics and politics of sympathy.

Students came to Amelia having already read Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple (along with scholarship on seduction fiction, some sentimental poetry, and selections from Benjamin Rush and Adam Smith).  I was, I admit, hardly breaking new ground by pairing Amelia with Charlotte Temple; however, I enthusiastically followed the example set by previous JTO contributors, happy to relieve Rowson’s novel of the burden of serving as a synecdoche for all of Anglo-American seduction fiction.  While the two texts have much in common—seduced women, faithless British soldiers, bereaved fathers, transatlantic voyages, revolutionary war setting, etc.—their intriguing differences allowed my students to reflect on the diversity possible within this seemingly most formulaic of genres. (more…)

Piracy, Politics, Power: Teaching Constantius and Pulcher

James D. Lilley

University at Albany, SUNY

If we were not all creatures of the digital age, the syllabus for my undergraduate course on “Transatlantic Romance” would be written on a sheet of jaundiced A4.  Like the promise of distant runway lights underlighting English clouds, its scribbles, scratches, and stains would only emphasize the fogged contours of my optimism.  As a course in genre and the politics of the romance, we typically begin our flight with Frye, Auerbach, and the Yvain of Chrétien de Troyes, and then move briskly through various Revolutions (the Glorious and Oronooko; the American and Rip Van Winkle; the French and Burke; the Haitian and Sansay) only to end up with Poe and Cooper, thickly mired in the swamps of the 1830s like Winfield Scott during the Second Seminole War.  This semester, I was very happy to enlist Constantius and Pulchera in these improbable travels.  Sandwiched between Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution and Irving’s Sketch-Book, their bizarre transatlantic adventures provided some important and comic relief.

Capping the Atlantic Survey

The History Constantius and Pulchera Blog entry


Cristobal Silva

Columbia University

I felt a bit apprehensive when I agreed to schedule one full day of my early American literature survey to this project, but the text and discussion it produced turned out to fit beautifully with the broader aims of the course.  It’s a testament to Duncan’s and Ed’s scholarly instincts that the first two texts they’ve chosen for Teach One are quite timely, and speak to recent developments in the field.

I have been revising my approach to the survey over the past decade along a trajectory that is likely familiar to others.  The course, now called “Literatures of Colonial America” (rather than “Early American Literature”) is designed to help students consider the broad range of narrative forms through which seventeenth and eighteenth-century inhabitants of the Atlantic world related colonial experiences.  No longer a history of nation formation, I’ve supplanted the teleological narrative of U.S. literary history that ranged from Puritanism to the American Revolution in favor of an increasingly fragmented series of narratives that encompass hemispheric—and particularly Caribbean—relations.  Furthermore, I’ve replaced anthologies with digital resources (EEBO, ECCO, Evans) and standalone modern reprints.  If none of the texts on this semester’s syllabus dealt explicitly with the politics of the American Revolution, I hoped that by the end of the semester, students could speak cogently about the relations between narrative form, the enlightenment, and the politics of race, labor, and gender in the eighteenth century. (more…)

Pig! Pig! Pig!

Michael Drexler

Bucknell University

My class, an upper-level undergraduate and master’s seminar, read Constantius & Pulchera in the second week of the semester. In the course, entitled US: Fever Fantasy Desire, we had already read a Charles Brockden Brown story, which I affectionately call “Pig! Pig! Pig!,” but more properly is Letter IX from Series of Original Letters published in the Weekly Magazine on May 26, 1798. The readings for week 2 included Peter Brooks’ “The Idea of a Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism,” Critical Inquiry 13.2 (1987): 334-348, and selections from Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  “Pig! Pig! Pig!” is an intense three page anecdote in which a mischievous childhood game turns deadly when repeated in the present.  (more…)

Closing with Constantius: Teaching Utopia in the Atlantic World

 Len von Morze

University of Massachusetts Boston

I chose Constantius and Pulchera as the last text in a seminar for M.A. students in English at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Since the experience of teaching any given text in a grad-seminar discussion will be different from the expectations the instructor has set for it, I’ll first describe how I situated the story within the course topic, and then summarize the insights that my students brought to the text.

The topic of the seminar was “Literature of the Atlantic World: Utopia and the World-System” (course website here: My basic question for the course was this: could we read literary utopias, beginning with More but especially in the eighteenth century, as a reaction-formation to the creation of an Atlantic economy? As I was thinking about how to frame this course — our first graduate offering on the Atlantic world — it occurred to me that some of the most prominent features of these fantastical voyages to utopia (planned societies, a sense of remoteness or inaccessibility, an emphasis on economic justice and/or self-sufficiency) could be seen as modes of resistance and/or critique vis-a-vis the most prominent features of the Atlantic market (the failure of imperial control, a pervasive sense of the already-seen or already-mapped, price convergence across the ocean). If a historical utopia (Oceana) tries to formulate laws for all time, key players in the Atlantic world tend to recognize no laws but those of the market. The horrors of the Atlantic transformation of bodies into capital (Equiano’s narrative of paradise lost) are sublated in utopia; the European traveler learns of fantastical lands whose morally superior inhabitants treat procreation as the source of all wealth (the “utopian economics” — to borrow Wilda Anderson’s phrase — parodied in Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville and earnestly espoused in Franklin’s “Speech of Miss Polly Baker”).[1] National and racial characteristics in utopia reflect similar inversions: rather than encountering savages, the English discoverer of these New Worlds is generally the one being civilized and converted (Utopia, Gulliver’s Travels); in comparison with other European powers, the English find themselves defeated or belated (Oroonoko, The Female American).


Educating Pulchera

Desirée Henderson

University of Texas Arlington

I taught The Story of Constantius and Pulchera in an undergraduate course that surveyed the representation of female education from the 1790s to the present. I originally intended to pair Foster’s The Boarding School and The Coquette, particularly as The Boarding School is now available to us in (astonishingly) two new student editions. My intent was to provide my students with contrasting examples of, on the one hand, young women who are “properly” educated and comply with the gender norms of the New Republic (in The Boarding School) and, on the other, a young woman (The Coquette’s Eliza Wharton) whose education appears to fail, resulting in her seduction and death.   (more…)

C & P in the Survey

Miles Grier
Queens College

I am grateful for being included in this ongoing experiment, particularly as one of the first cohort to teach The History of Constantius and Pulchera. Duncan Faherty enticed me by appealing to my research interest in early American Shakespeare adaptations, but I found that the prior readings on my syllabus produced a different—though still enjoyable–conversation.

The first two units of this undergraduate survey in American literature before 1865 were very historical in their focus. The students read only one text that we would properly call Literature—a selection of Phyllis Wheatley’s poems. Instead, they were focused on the ways that trade, war, and migrations (forced and voluntary) reconfigured geographies and group identities, setting the Atlantic rim in violent and perpetual motion. We read from Calloway’s The World Turned Upside Down, Michael Gomez’s Exchanging Our Country Marks, as well as Harriot’s Briefe and True Reporte. The second unit focused on captivity narratives, comparing those of Rowlandson, Dustin, and Marrant both to each other and to the fictionalized “Panther Captivity.” This segment immediately preceded Constantius and Pulchera, the first extended reading in fiction. Considering the onslaught of historical documents and scholarship, I could tell the students were relieved to be in territory that they associated with an English literature course.  


C & P and Transatlantic Feminism

Caroline Wigginton

Rutgers  University

I’ll confess up front that I volunteered for this semester’s Just Teach One as I liked the idea of a shared pedagogical experiment. I had never heard of the selection, The Story of Constantius and Pulchera, though such distinctively named titular characters boded well for an interesting and odd read if nothing else.

My modest hopes were rewarded, and I opted to incorporate it into my upper-division historical feminist theories course for Women’s and Gender Studies majors and minors, subtitled “Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions.” I had already slated Susanna Rowson’s play Slaves in Algiers for a unit on Captivity, Romance, and Revolutionary Rhetoric, but there was room to include C&P. My students, all women, admitted being “consumed by the drama” of what they categorized as an early American soap opera, and, as one student put it, they appreciated how the narrative “reward[ed] [Pulchera’s] autonomy with what she wanted,” Constantius. They debated whether the resolution legitimated arranged marriage and patriarchy (since Constantius was chosen by her father, even if he later changed his mind).  Would its eighteenth-century female readers see romance in obedience? Would they find an exhilarating freedom or a terrifying rootlessness in Pulchera’s shipboard adventures? Why didn’t it end with Constantius’s death and Pulchera’s continued adventures in drag? The story’s anonymity offered them a challenge in that they had to plumb the text in order to form opinions on possible feminist expressions and foreclosures rather than resort to what was often a too easy equation of female-authorship with radicalism and resistance.

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