What is privacy? How is it different from secrecy? Can you have dignity without privacy? How might privacy be dangerous? How is one’s experience of privacy shaped by gender, race, class, or sexuality?
Americans have been thinking – and writing, and reading – about privacy since before there even was a United States. Indeed, two of the American literary tradition’s most important genres, the autobiography and the novel, urge us to think about literature’s relationship to privacy. In particular, the novel, read by individual readers in secluded settings and preoccupied with sex, as well as with the home and with the inner lives of its characters, bears a particularly fraught relationship to privacy. Do writers make a living by invading others’ privacy? What about when they themselves become famous? With their personal letters and diaries subject to scrutiny, do celebrity authors have any right to privacy? Reading classic works by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Henry James, as well as less familiar texts, we will explore the meaning of privacy in America. Centering on classic works of pre-1900 American literature, this course will familiarize you with interdisciplinary literary analysis by introducing you to historicist and law-and-humanities methodologies.