The Reception History

By the second week of class, I will ask you to pick one of the texts on our syllabus and begin researching its literary reception. You will write a five-page reception history essay, in MLA format. This essay will be revised at least once, in consultation with me, before it receives a grade.

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1.) The library meeting:

As a class, we will meet in the library to discuss the digital resources available for each of the possible texts. By the end of our class meeting, you will have found at least two archival sources related to your primary text. These can be:

  • book reviews published at the time
  • articles or illustrations from the periodical in which your text appeared
  • articles from a different, but related, periodical
  • similar sorts of texts (other poems, novels, short stories, sermons, and so on)
  • cultural ephemera from the period: engravings, paintings, sheet music, and so on

The key is that these sources are related, in some way, to the text you’d like to discuss. After our library meeting, I will expect you to find at least four more sources. 

2.) Once you have gathered your sources, you will start writing:

Write at least a paragraph of “close reading” for each source found in your research. Consider the following questions:

  • When was this published?
  • Who was the author?
  • What was the venue?
  • How many readers did this venue reach?
  • Who were they — racially, socioeconomically, politically, and so on?
  • How does this compare to the authorship, publication history, or readership of your text?
  • Finally, read your source or image. What is revealed by a close examination of its content?
    • What kind of language does the author use, figurative or otherwise?
    • What does this text look like physically?
    • How is the text organized?
    • What other formal qualities can you identify?

You probably won’t be able to answer all of these questions, but do your best. Feel free, also, to offer your best supposition in the first draft. We can discuss and revise these suppositions as we go.

3.) Once you have completed your close readings, reread them:

Have any patterns emerged? Does the reception fall into two camps? Three camps? Five? Do writers from a certain geographic area, political background, religious affiliation, or race agree on a particular issue? Do they disagree?

Write an introduction explaining this pattern. Do not draft a narrow thesis statement. Instead, frame your findings. 

  • For instance, “While magazines in Boston and New York recommended Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (1905), writers in the South were more skeptical. Many writers, especially those in the Deep South, were troubled by its depiction of marriage. There was one exception to this trend …” Be as specific as possible, and acknowledge the limitations of your findings.

4.) Now, submit your essay and set up a one-on-one meeting time with me:

I will give you both written and verbal feedback, after which you will revise your reception history.

By the end of our meeting, you will have written a revision plan. This plan will include:

  • A plan for more research
  • A plan for refining your theory about the materials you have found so far

Good luck!