Just Teach One

Canon Fire and Gender Trouble

Christopher J. Lukasik

Purdue University

We all know the course. Survey of Literature in America to 1865. Or at least that’s what I call it. It goes by different names and assumes other shapes of course—as longstanding institutional forces tend to do–, but for many of us, it remains, for better or worse, a staple of our undergraduate teaching lives. And this is where I decided to teach The Story of Constantius and Pulchera.

I was worried at first. Perhaps I was asking too much of it. But there it stood on the syllabus. Taking its place–or shall I say–shoved into line alongside the usual suspects; all those authors my students had already learned to associate with the first half of the undergraduate American literature survey: Franklin. Emerson. Poe. Hawthorne. Douglass. Melville. Whitman. Dickinson. I tried to take it easy on Constantius and Pulchera by creating a “unit” on the culture of performance and the limitations of self-fashioning (pairing it with texts by Franklin, Equiano, and Occom among others). Little did I know (more…)

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