A remarkably economical text

Elizabeth Hewitt
The Ohio State University

As part of a major renovation to our department’s major requirements and the university’s conversion from a quarter to a semester calendar, the Department of English at Ohio State decided to compress all of American literary history (“origins” to 2012) into one 14-week course. I was selected as the lab rat to navigate this particular curricular maze. And so when Duncan and Ed sent out their call to incorporate Amelia: or the Faithless Briton into our syllabi, I decided to try the novel out in the large American literary survey course I was scheduled to teach in Fall 2012.
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Amelia in an honors section

John Funchion
University of Miami

I taught Amelia, or the Faithless Briton in an honors section of my introductory survey of early U.S. literature, which revolved around the legacy of the captivity narrative and discourses on feeling.  My students read this short novel after we had concluded our discussion of Charlotte Temple. Predictably, many of them initially did not care for Susana Rowson’s text. Raised on a literary diet that included martial female characters from Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series to Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games trilogy, they had little patience for fainting young women who fell victim to lecherous rakes. Their own tastes in reading, nevertheless, did not prevent them from engaging Rowson’s novel on its own terms. Even though they found her didactic voice generally off-putting, they recognized that Rowson’s commanding narrator anticipated their skepticism at every turn. And as we discussed the literary and cultural context of Charlotte Temple, they entertained—and many were even persuaded by—readings of it that asserted its capacity to generate a sympathetic community through the mourning of her death or its depiction of the perils associated with reproducing the English family in British North America.
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Amelia and Attachment Disorders

Michelle Burnham
Santa Clara University

We all know that it is generally not a good idea to do too many new things at once. I have promptly violated this rule by teaching Amelia for the first time, in a course I am teaching for the first time, which also happens to be running as a pilot foundation course for a new major our department is hoping to institute next year. So this experiment begins for me by breaking several attachments at once, attachments to more familiar pedagogical objects and curricular terrain.
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Amelia and Charlotte

Sari Altschuler
University of South Florida

I taught Amelia: Or the Faithless Briton this semester at the midpoint of my American literature survey paired with Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, and it worked wonderfully. Students really enjoyed the novella and overwhelmingly preferred it to Charlotte Temple, with the discussion eventually turning (perhaps a bit reluctantly on the part of some) to how much more they had learned about the seduction narrative and gender in early America by reading both texts together. The students preferred Amelia for a variety of reasons: 1) The text is shorter and easier to discuss comprehensively in a 75-minute class period. 2) The students concluded, along with Marion Rust, that Charlotte was frustratingly passive. They delighted especially in the comparison between Charlotte’s habit of inopportune fainting and Amelia’s quick return from her fainting spell to wipe away “useless tears” and to embrace “boldness,” “enterprize,” and “the noblest fortitude” (7). Not only did they value Amelia’s strength and resilience, but they were also relieved that the anonymous text placed less blame on Amelia for her fate. Students who had read Charlotte Temple,Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette, and Amelia were additionally able to recognize the rigidity of the seduction narrative’s form, and, thus, appreciated Amelia’s determination all the more. 3) Students really enjoyed the discussion of anonymity in the early republic (my thanks on that score to Ed White’s terrific presentation on the topic at the last Society of Early Americanist’s meeting). They were surprised to find out how common anonymous publishing was, and the discussion led one student to announce that she would love to take a course that featured only anonymous texts to get her out of a dependency on biographical reading.
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Teaching Amelia in an upper-level American Women Writers course

Sari Edelstein
University of Massachusetts, Boston

I taught in Amelia in an upper-level English course, “American Women Writers and Culture,” and we read it in conjunction with Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple. I assigned the very short introduction to Jane Tompkins’ Sensational Designs on the first day of class, which gave students a vocabulary and a literary-historical context for popular, melodramatic fiction. The pairing of the two texts made the generic conventions of the seduction novel readily apparent; they were able to clearly recognize specific character types and plot devices. Given that Amelia and Charlotte Temple have so much in common, students were primed to observe and contemplate their differences and to assess how those variations contributed to vastly different kinds of “cultural work.” Thus, beyond comparison merely for its own sake, the juxtaposed portrayals of nation and femininity allowed us to discuss the stakes of representation.
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