Pulp, Popular, Proletarian 
Working Syllabus  

Fall 2013    Wednesdays 2-4:25                                               Office Hours:
Prof. Christopher P. Wilson                                                        Mon.  12-1:50
                                                                                                     Wed. 12-1:50
 Stokes 417  ex. 2-3719                                                                Thurs. 1-3 (by appointment only)
You can email me by clicking here:wilsonc@bc.edu                    (I'm here a lot:  email me and we can set up a time if these don't work.)

Roy Lichtenstein   "I Don't Care..."

Course Description

This is a course on forms of American writing that, even to this day, often remain out of view in the academy.  As the course title suggests, we will primarily focus on three different modes of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American prose:

•       “pulp” or sensational literatures (e.g. dime novels, slave narratives, or nonfiction exposés of poverty, prisons, crime or corruption); 
•       popular or mass-cultural genres (adventure tales, westerns, noir mysteries, or “true confessions” narratives); 

.  "proletarian" or working class narratives (for instance, proletarian fiction from the 1930s, working-class memoirs, or naturalist portraits of blue collar life).

Many of these texts propose to look into working class or blue collar experience, or the lives of the poor or disadvantaged;  others propose to speak to or for "the poor" or "the masses."  But more to the point, this course is about the intersections of these three domains of writing, and in the way these literary modes have been represented in, or served to shape, more mainstream or canonical literatures. Our readings will therefore include not only samples of these particular modes, but a few attempts by better-known and/or canonical American writers to adapt them to experimental fiction (for instance, to make pulp detective stories into modernist art, or thread gangster tales into working-class or immigrant memoir). And finally, we will delve into critical theorizing about print forms and stratification, popular entertainment, and mass culture in American life. For example, what is "sensationalism," and where did it surface?  How are forms of reading correlated or coordinated with ideas about urban or western space?  How do forms of writing compete or connect with other forms of leisure?  What does it mean to recover truly lost or underground literatures?--and if they are so lost, why are they still called "popular"?  And what does it mean to chart the emergence of a sensational or a vernacular modernism that--as it turns out--attracted writers now as canonical as Stephen Crane, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tillie Olsen, Nathanael West, and others?

  1. Class Participation  (35%), including two different (but brief) stints: one as a "question formulator" and one as an informal researcher.
  2.  A one-page "gambit and method" memorandum on a critical essay or book chapter. (5%)
  3. One 4-5 page essay analyzing and evaluating a critical article or book chapter.  (25%)
  4. A longer conference paper  of approximately 12-18 pages due at the end of the semester. This paper can build on the short review essay you write, if you like. (35%)
  5. The viewing of two films("Tarzan the Ape Man" and "Citizen Kane")

Here are the course texts I have ordered; we will read a few other primary texts as well, along with critical essays and book chapters.  It will be possible in many cases to use an e-text for your reading rather than the book offered at the BC Bookstore. (I've indicated that by putting an "E" on the syllabus below for good options, and provided links where I can) . Two of the the texts ordered for the bookstore represent alternative paths for the syllabus itself--so please don't buy them yet (stay tuned).  


This syllabus may be revised occasionally, so please bookmark it and check it when alerted.  I've tried to put all necessary secondary readings on our Blackboard site.  I've given some titles below synopsized/distilled titles, rather than their original ones, so that you can better anticipate the contents of a given essay.  But that's the essay you'll find on our Blackboard site.  In some cases, where it's potentially ambiguous (e.g. whether it's a book chapter on Reserve or a Blackboard reading, I've put an "W" or an "R.").


Sept. 4

Introductory Meeting

For background purposes, please read the following essays either before our first class or soon after it. The first essay by David Anthony should also be considered as vital to our Sept. 11 readings as well:

Also recommended


Sept. 11

Note: if for compelling reasons you cannot attend class on Sept. 11, please let me know in advance. Thanks.

Sept. 18

John Sloan HaymarketRequired:  

Winslow Homer  The Bobbin Girl

Sept. 25



Oct. 2 



Oct. 9  


Oct. 16    Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don (1).  Please read through Chapter 19. I would also like you to read Sanchez and Pita’s introduction, through the section entitled “”Settlers and Squatters”
                and a critical essay (TBA)

Sometime during these weeks, you should see the film "Tarzan the Apeman" (1932)--primarily in preparation for our discussion on Oct. 30th.

Oct. 23    Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don (2).  Finish the book. We will have a visit from PhD student Kiara Kharpertian, who has also asked us to read the chapter by Marcial Gonzalez on our BB site. 

Oct 30

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland    In addition to the edition in the bookstore, you may want to use an online version:  if so, click here    . 


Nov. 6

Sometime during these weeks, you should view "Citizen Kane," primarily for our discussion on Nov. 20

Nov. 13


Cover of True Confessions MagazineNov. 20
Thanksgiving Break


Dec. 4   Mike Gold, Jews Without Money
Michael Denning on Ghetto Pastoral in The Cultural Front  (W) and (R)

Lewis Hine Empire State Photograph

Dec. 11



Final Projects Due