Gordon Sayre
University of Oregon

Early American Personal Narrative

The term "Autobiography" was not coined until 1808 and did find common usage until the 1830s. The texts we will be reading have been assigned ex post facto to this genre. However, many of the most important forms of narrative writing in American Literature from its colonial beginnings until 1850, spiritual confessions, slave narratives, captivity stories, diaries and travel narratives, are varieties of autobiography. By reading these kinds of writings together as personal narratives, and examining theoretical issues of the conception of the self and its representation in writing, we can see how history and experience in America created the self-images and the literary genres we take for granted today.

There are two essential texts which I have not included in the assigned readings, but assume you have read in previous English courses. These are the narratives by Frederick Douglass and Mary Rowlandson. If you have not read these before, please do so by the third week of class.

Books (at the University Bookstore):

Ethan Allen, The Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity

William Apess, On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess ed Barry O'Connell

The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr 1754-1757 ed. Karlsen and Krumpacker

Olaudah Equiano, Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa in Classic Slave Narratives ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography and other writings

John R. Jewitt, The Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, Captive of Maquinna

James E. Seaver, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison

The Falcon: A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner during Thirty Years Residence among the Indians in the Interior of North America

A Photocopy Packet is also available at the University bookstore. It contains the following works and excerpts:

Marie de l'Incarnation, from Word from New France, the Selected Letters of Marie de l'Incarnation. trans. and ed. Joyce Marshall. Toronto: Oxford UP,1967. pp. 51-175, 196-203.

Jonathan Edwards, "Personal Narrative" and Elizabeth Ashbridge, "Some Account of the Fore-Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge" from The Norton Anthology of American Literature 4th edition, vol. 1, pp. 381-91, 600-621.

John Dane, "A Declaration of Remarkable Providences in the Course of my Life" in John Demos, ed. Remarkable Providences. 2nd edition. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. pp. 60-69.

"The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon" originally published in The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, by John Filson. Wilmington, Delaware: James Adams, 1784.

Stephen Burroughs, from Memoirs of the Notorious Stephen Burroughs of New Hampshire. (Albany, NY: 1811) London: Jonathan Cape, 1924. pp. 3-74, 192-229

John Dunn Hunter, Memoirs of a Captivity Among the Indians of North America (3rd English edition, 1824). New York: Schocken Books, 1973. pp 5-80

Assignments and Grades: There will be five short papers of one to two pages, a critical paper, an independent project, and a final exam. See below for more on the two major writing assignments. There may also be unannounced quizzes on the assigned readings. Grades will be calculated on the basis of 30% for the critical paper, 30% for the six short papers,  20% for the independent project, and 20% for the final exam.

Reserve Readings: Some reading assignments will include secondary readings from the list below. Where there is just one significant source for information about an author, as for John Dunn Hunter, I've put that book on reserve so that all students can have access to it.

"In Defense of Self: Author and Authority in the Memoirs of StepheBurroughs" by Daniel E. Williams. Early American Literature 25 (1990):96-122.

"Zealous in the Defense of Liberty: The Narrative of Ethan Allen" by Daniel E. Williams. Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 19 (1989): 325-247.

White Savage: The Case of John Dunn Hunter by Richard Drinnon. 1973.

White Captives: Gender and Authority on the American Frontier by June Namias. University of North Carolina Press, 1993. [chapter on Mary Jemison]

Mathew CareyAutobiography (first published in the New England Magazine in 1833-34)

Spiritual Autobiography in Early America. by Daniel Shea. Princeton UP, 1968. [pp. 30-39 on Ashbridge, pp. 126-139 on Dane, pp. 187-208 on Edwards, pp. 234-248 on Franklin]

Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature by Houston Baker.  University of Chicago Press, 1984. [pp. 31-50 on Equiano and Douglass]

Stephen Burroughs' and John Dunn Hunter's books will also be on reserve, so that you may have access to the entire text from which the selections in the course packet are taken. The edition of Burroughs is not the same one as in the photocopy packet, however.

The Independent Project

In the second week of term I will hand out a bibliography of additional personal narratives from the period, and we can work together to expand this list as the course progresses. For this project you will need to choose a narrative, write a three to four page paper on the subject and the text, and give a 5-10 minute presentation to the class. I will schedule presentations for the opening of class, starting in the fourth week, and the paper will be due on the day of your presentation. See me to arrange for copies of handouts or illustrations to support your presentation.

The Critical Paper

This is the major essay you will write this term on a topic of your own choosing. It should be at least six pages in length. Do not simply summarize the facts of the subject's life, but analyze his or her narrative. Some possible issues to discuss (not all of which are suitable for every work) include:

* the role of an amanuensis such as James Seaver and its effect on autobiographical authenticity

*the separation between narrator and protagonist of the autobiography

*the degree to which the narrative follows the model of a genre such as spiritual autobiography or      captivity narrative

*the manner in which different editions and editors have shaped the presentation and the meaning of the text

Schedule of readings

April 2 Introduction; read and discuss Bradstreet

Spiritual Autobiography
April 4 Dane and Edwards in packet
April 9 Ashbridge in packet, Shea on Dane, Edwards and Ashbridge (reserve)
April 11 William Apess, Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe
1st paper due
April 16 Apess, A Son of the Forest, Eulogy on King Philip, and Indian Nullification pp 167-174

Captivity and Native American Identity
April 18 Mary Jemison chapters 1-6
April 23 Jemison ch. 7-16 and Namias on Jemison (reserve)
2nd paper due
April 25 John Dunn Hunter (packet)
April 30 John R. Jewitt
May 2 John Tanner chapters 1-7
May 7 Tanner chapters 8-15
3rd paper due

Letters, Journals, and the Domestic Sphere
May 9 Marie de l'Incarnation pp. 51-121
May 14 de l'Incarnation pp. 121-175 and Burr, pp. 45-90
4th paper due
May 16 Burr, conclusion

Rogues and Heroes
May 21 Ethan Allen
May 23 Stephen Burroughs (packet) and either Williams article (reserve) Emancipation and Evaluation
May 28 Olaudah Equiano, chapters 1-5 and Baker (reserve)
May 30 Equiano, conclusion
5th paper due
June 4 Benjamin Franklin, pp. 1-85 and selections from Carey (reserve)
June 6 Franklin, pp. 85-191 and "The Way to Wealth" pp. 215-225

June 12 Final Exam at 10:15 am