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The Cambridge History of the American Novel
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    Darda, Joseph 2014. Narratives of Exception in the Warfare State. Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, Vol. 25, Issue. 2, p. 80.

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Book description

This ambitious literary history traces the American novel from its emergence in the late eighteenth century to its diverse incarnations in the multi-ethnic, multi-media culture of the present day. In a set of original essays by renowned scholars from all over the world, the volume extends important critical debates and frames new ones. Offering new views of American classics, it also breaks new ground to show the role of popular genres - such as science fiction and mystery novels - in the creation of the literary tradition. One of the original features of this book is the dialogue between the essays, highlighting cross-currents between authors and their works as well as across historical periods. While offering a narrative of the development of the genre, the History reflects the multiple methodologies that have informed readings of the American novel and will change the way scholars and readers think about American literary history.

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'… an innovative approach that is bound to prove as stimulating as the best of American fiction already does.'

Source: Contemporary Review

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Page 1 of 3


  • 1 - Transatlantic currents and the invention of the American novel
    pp 22-36
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.004
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Like all histories, the history of the novel has always been written retrospectively. Cathy N. Davidson identified in the early American novel a predominantly female discourse of sentimentalism. William C. Spengemann has claimed that Aphra Behn's Oroonoko is the earliest American novel on the grounds that it is a literary work written in English about America. The Female Quixotism, published in 1801 by American novelist Tabitha Gilman Tenney, who similarly satirizes the strangely extravagant tendency of her heroine, Dorcas Sheldon, to misread the world according to the hyperbolic figures of fiction. The sprawling nature of Hugh Henry Brackenridge's Modern Chivalry narrative reflects the continual revisions in the author's own views on the state of Pennsylvania running through Brackenridge's multi-volume work. The eighteenth-century American novel, Reuben and Rachel, developed across a transatlantic axis and was shaped by European prototypes as much as by US political pressures.
  • 2 - Susanna Rowson, Hannah Webster Foster, and the seduction novel in the early US
    pp 37-50
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.005
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter begins with an analysis of how the rhetorical interplay between slavery and seduction functioned in questions about print, personhood, and the power of sympathy to elucidate the stakes of Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple and Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette. First, it demonstrates how these novels move between the poles of self-abdication and self-ownership. Next, the chapter discusses these novels in the context of Great Awakening preaching to reveal the fraught counter narrative these tales of ruined women offered to the national story of autonomous individualism. It then argues that readers were intent on rendering Charlotte a historical figure, even when history itself offered little corroborating evidence. In the early American seduction novel, pregnancy provides a space for the authors to play out John Lockean ideals of self-possession against the evangelical model of self-surrender. In the Bible, pregnancy was a popular example of God's ultimate ownership of the human body.
  • 3 - Charles Brockden Brown and the novels of the early republic
    pp 51-66
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.006
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Accounts of the American novel, whether nationalist accounts or accounts of developing nationalism, that fail to consider the totality of writing consumed by early American readers inevitably fail to comprehend the character of these first American fictions. Charles Brockden Brown's six novels, published between 1798 and 1801, have most often been treated by literary historians as indices of American character, political conflict, and nascent nationalism. Beginning with the fictional dialogue Alcuin, Brown aimed to intervene in a range of intellectual debates at the turn of the century, from discussions of women's education and rights, to religion's place in public life, to the nature and treatment of yellow fever. Clara Howard and Jane Talbot, both published in 1801, mark, along with the conclusion to Arthur Mervyn, or Memoirs of the Year 1793, a shift from a gothic mode to the courtship romance.
  • 4 - The novel in the antebellum book market
    pp 67-87
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.007
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter discusses antebellum American novels through their production, distribution, and consumption. Unlike New York's Harper and Brothers, in existence since 1817 and ranked third with mostly hardcover titles, Boston's Frederick Gleason and the Williams Brothers specialized in American pamphlet fiction. Antebellum novel distribution included subscription sellers, canvassing agents, trade sale auctioneers, booksellers and other storekeepers, periodical depot dealers, newsboys, advertisers, newspaper and magazine editors, book reviewers, lecturers, librarians, school teachers, panorama exhibitors, and shipping agents of varying stripes. The prevalence of groups reading aloud suggests that in estimating numbers of readers exposed to a book, one must multiply copies sold by an unknown factor of listeners. The book acquired still more readers, as it was passed from hand to hand, borrowed, or cut apart for scrapbooks. Some books were rented from the commercial circulating libraries that increasingly specialized in novels at mid-century as the newly founded free public libraries mostly eschewed fiction.
  • 5 - American land, American landscape, American novels
    pp 88-102
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.008
  • View abstract
    Summary
    In discussions of the prospects for a national literature, theorists of the antebellum novel were divided on the question of the thinness of American culture and its implications for setting as the ground of a distinct tradition. Novelists developed more complex and varied engagements with American land and landscape than even such divided theorizing implied. Two significant issues emerged during the antebellum era, one concerning the novel's generic commitment to setting and another concerning the possibility of imagining a national landscape. The first American novel to engage substantially with landscape was Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly. The most popular and influential frontier adventure novels were Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking series: The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer. Pastoralism and stadialism both addressed issues of race and class and the disposition of labor confronting expansionist nationalism, especially as manifested in the agricultural transformation of wilderness.
  • 6 - Cooper and the idea of the Indian
    pp 103-116
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.009
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The Oak Openings is no more James Fenimore Cooper's definitive word on the Indian because it is his last Indian novel than The Pioneers is, definitive because it was his first such novel, or The Last of the Mohicans is, definitive because it was his most popular work. Roy Harvey Pearce found in Cooper a foundational rendering of savagism, a belief system. Cooper certainly believed that Native American life as it had developed prior to European conquest and settlement was coming to an end, and his Indian novels examine the ethical dilemmas posed by this prospect. The place of New England in Cooper's Indian novels emerges with the greatest clarity in The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish, which responds to the works of Lydia Maria Child and Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Cooper developed an even more complex ethnic palette in Indian novels, which begins with Wyandottè, includes the Littlepage Manuscripts, and concludes with The Oak Openings.
  • 7 - The nineteenth-century historical novel
    pp 117-134
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.010
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The historical novel's combination of a realism of representation and themes of adventure taken from the romance gave the novel a lot of popularity. This chapter focuses on the period between 1820 and the Civil War when the historical novel genre established a new form and function of the novel, and had its greatest impact on the development of American literature. James Kirke Paulding's novels Westward Ho! and The Puritan and His Daughter deal with religious fanaticism. Nathaniel Hawthorne made the transition from historical to psychological romance in his tales and in his Puritan novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. The rise of the historical novel has to be seen in the larger context of the increased importance of historical consciousness in the nineteenth century. Carolyn Karcher has called Hope Leslie the most multivocal and technically innovative of nineteenth-century frontier romances.
  • 8 - Hawthorne and the aesthetics of American romance
    pp 135-150
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.011
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Nathaniel Hawthorne invented for the United States, serious fiction validated by highbrow culture in his extended works from The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun. In the prefaces he wrote to his long fictional works, Hawthorne highlighted the term romance and through his usage the term became important again in mid-twentieth century. Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter began to establish the basis for the cultural leadership that was exercised through the Atlantic Monthly and that made Boston for several generations a publishing center of greater cultural weight than New York. The narrative structure of The Blithedale Romance highlights the complexities of spectatorship. The establishment of literary narrative in Hawthorne's romance made possible the dream of an autonomous world of art and pleasure, which proved however to depend on economic and political conditions that produced misery at the personal, local, and national levels.
  • 9 - Melville and the novel of the sea
    pp 151-166
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.012
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The intermingling of fact and fiction characteristic of Herman Melville's three Polynesian novels was a hallmark of the early American novel. This chapter discusses Melville's interest in the generic forms and presumptions of sea writing and of popular novels more generally. It refers in some degree to all of his sea writing, including Typee, Omoo, Mardi, Redburn, White-Jacket, and Moby-Dick. First, the chapter provides a genealogy for Melville's sea novels whose trajectory does not presume a logical end in that brilliantly experimental work. Then, it also considers the implications of Melville's frustration of generic expectations in the form of his domestic novel Pierre and riparian novel The Confidence-Man. Typee tests the limits of respectability in various ways, particularly in its critique of Christianizing impulses and Western senses of sexual and bodily propriety. Moby-Dick models a variety of narrative forms, and references to books or other texts proliferate.
  • 10 - Religion and the nineteenth-century American novel
    pp 167-191
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.013
  • View abstract
    Summary
    George Parsons Lathrop's observation on Nathaniel Hawthorne's Uncle Tom's Cabin suggests the novel's capacity as a literary form to address deficiencies in the sermon, catechism, religious tract, and other extra-biblical genres. In place of the minister's authoritative voice in the sermon emerged the disembodied narrator, whose moral opprobrium was a judgment predicated on the reader's informed moral autonomy. Nineteenth-century ministers adapted the Christian message and traditional pedagogy to popular narrative forms. The homiletic-novel highlights how evangelicals have long understood participatory pedagogies as vital to developing moral-agency. Moby-Dick by turns meditates on the presence and absence of an authoritarian God, yet concerns itself less with spiritual salvation than with the redemption of honor and dignity. The Catholic-novel confronted a backlog of stereotypes and libels such as Six Months in a Convent and Awful Disclosures. A key formal feature that distinguishes homiletic-novels from their secular counterparts is their refusal of narrative closure.
  • 11 - Manhood and the early American novel
    pp 192-208
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.014
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The diversity and flexibility of the novel as a genre made it a fertile terrain for understanding the transforming concept of manhood during the first half of the nineteenth century. This chapter describes the rise of the self-made man with his constitutive ambivalences, and focuses on how the novel offered a useful vehicle for writers working through the prescriptions and limits of the fraught-ideal of manhood. American writers often used the tropes of self-made manhood in order to argue for the manliness of those deprived of it by the paternalistic, effeminizing rhetoric of slavery. The happy ending of The House of the Seven Gables can barely dispel the horrors of intersubjective violation and psychological domination explored in the middle chapters. Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction shows that one cannot separate the rise of the novel from the production of the new female ideal.
  • 12 - Sentimentalism
    pp 209-220
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.015
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The category of sentimentalism and its general features have been extremely useful to literary critics. With the publication of F. O. Matthiessen's American Renaissance, sentimentalism stood as the dividing line between high and popular literature, between male and female writers, between serious and maudlin representations of American life in literature. One of the most complex issues taken up by sentimental fiction is the marriage relation, because sentimentalism demands that its novels conclude in marriage. Yet virtually all of the novels are acutely aware of just how vulnerable a woman is when she marries. Caroline Lee Hentz's Ernest Linwood deals with a woman's mental abuse after marriage. E. D. E. N. Southworth devotes her entire career both to situating her female protagonists within the limitations of being femes covert and finding away within or beyond those limitations.
  • 13 - Supernatural novels
    pp 221-235
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.016
  • View abstract
    Summary
    From its first appearances in the American novel, the supernatural is often asserted only to be denied, or asserted through the very process of denial. This chapter highlights the supernatural novel's instabilities, and argues for the significance of dispossession in several senses, to American supernatural writing. It presents the arguments chronologically in three sections, starting with Edgar Allan, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hannah Crafts, and Nathaniel Hawthorne; interpreting fiction in early twentieth century by S. Weir Mitchell, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Henry James, and H. P. Lovecraft; and concluding with later twentieth-century fiction by Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Anne Rice. Intertwining high and low cultural registers, the chapter focuses throughout on categories of identity, particularly race, gender, and sexuality. African-American revisions of the supernatural include Gloria Naylor's Mama Day and Jewelle Gomez's The Gilda Stories: A Novel.
  • 14 - Imagining the South
    pp 236-251
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.017
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The South, as addressed in this chapter, is a place of the imagination. The chapter tracks this South from the novels of the early republic, through the American Civil War, and to the rise of the more programmatic regionalist writing. It sketches the changing incarnations of the South across the first-century of the US-novel, with focus on its evolving functions in delineating national-space and time. The South is in fact everywhere in the margins of the novels of the early republic, as a key point of reference. The 1830s saw an alteration in the relationship of the South to the rest of the US. William Gilmore Simms insists upon a Southern locus for his nationalist tales, with his sectionalism inextricable from his nationalism. With the coming of the Civil War, American novelists returned overwhelmingly to romance plots organized around the progress, or thwarting of progress, of a couple toward marriage.
  • 15 - Stowe, race, and the antebellum American novel
    pp 252-266
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.018
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Prominent among the white writers who wrote influential racial books was Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. In Iola Leroy, a novel that leads to a call for black novelists, Frances E. W. Harper followed a tradition when writing about race increasingly meant writing about black Americans. The representation of race, both black and white, became an increasingly pronounced presence in novels. Stowe's black characters constitute the most prominent and conspicuous racial group in the novel, and while they are diverse, Stowe regularly gathers them into a single category. Writers also discovered in Stowe's novel significant challenges in representing the realities and complexities of African-American life. Many novels are devoted to the racial oppression of African-Americans, as is the case with Albion Tourgèe's A Fool's Errand and Bricks Without Straw, Harper's Iola Leroy, and Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition.
  • 16 - The early African American novel
    pp 267-282
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.019
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The history of the early African-American novel is not fixed or stable. As African-American writers did not have ready access to US publishing houses, they had to self-publish or find sympathetic publishers. Literary history typically focuses on questions of influence and tradition, but it remains unclear whether early black novelists read one another. The early African-American novel was profoundly intertextual and political, indebted to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Adam Smith whose The Theory of Moral Sentiments had an enormous impact on literary sentimentalism. William Wells Brown's Clotel focuses on the destruction done to blacks and whites, and ultimately to US civilization by Southern white racists unwillingness to legally sanction any marriage involving blacks. To some extent, arguments that insist on Hannah Crafts's blackness are doing their own part to preserve the racial fictions upon which traditional understandings of the history of the early African-American novel have been based.
  • 17 - Realism and radicalism: the school of Howells
    pp 289-303
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.021
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Literary critics have frequently treated Realism in America from William Roscoe Thayer's time forward as though it were the private property of William Dean Howells, the editor, who shaped the field of American letters from his positions at The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Monthly, and Harper's Weekly during the final three decades of the nineteenth-century. Howells's most ambitious novel is the A Hazard of New Fortunes in which he takes on the economic and political divisions of American urban life most directly. He praised the short fiction of Charles Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman and The Wife of His Youth but found too much anger in Chesnutt's portrayal of the Wilmington race riot in The Marrow of Tradition. Howells's comments on the novel bear careful reading because of what they reveal about the limitations of the literary realism.
  • 18 - James, pragmatism, and the realist ideal
    pp 304-321
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.022
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The gulf between desire and actuality constitutes the defining tension of William and Henry Jamesian pragmatism and realism, a tension that is best described by William James in Pragmatism. Henry James's realism explores the trickle-down effect of this world that says no from external obstacles, such as tall stone walls to the internalization of these walls in the darkest reaches of the human psyche. Pragmatism provides a way to grapple with the flux and uncertainty of the modern-world not by escaping it but by engaging it through a strategy of adaptability. Howellsian realism is more outwardly directed, committed to the democratization of American letters as a way to validate the lowly and the common as worthy of aesthetic representation. Where William's pragmatism begins with the premise that people are afraid and offers a coping strategy of melioration, Henry's realism interrogates fear and casts doubt on the adequacy of such strategies.
  • 19 - Theories of the American novel in the age of realism
    pp 322-336
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.023
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The American novel gained unprecedented prestige in the age of realism. The vocabulary of fiction criticism, during 1865-1920, became more sophisticated even in spite of itself. William Dean Howells often sounded certain that he knew what realism was: nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material. Harriet Beecher Stowe lent partial support for the new professionalism in a series of how-to magazine essays giving tips to aspiring young women writers. Realism was well suited to be the option of choice for writers with a newly intensified sense of novel-writing as discipline. American-writers knew well that realism, naturalism, even regionalism were European imports. James was far more interested in Anglo-European fiction than American, and Howells almost as much so, despite being much more immersed in the American literary scene. In fiction theory, the key instance was the dream of the great American novel, defined by John De Forest.
  • 20 - The novel in postbellum print culture
    pp 337-364
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.024
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter examines one of the most interesting transformations in American print culture: the coherence of a centralized national literary establishment during the decades after the Civil War, and an establishment challenged by the emergence of several new sources of literary authority. As the case of George Du Maurier's Trilby suggests the study of print culture makes trouble for familiar categories of literary history such as the American novel. Realism was promoted by establishment consensus because it held in solution potentially incompatible literary values. The African American writers Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charles Chesnutt entered literary culture as local color writers on the basis of poems and stories that featured dialect speakers and settings in the antebellum South or the postbellum Black Belt. The print culture world in which The Age of Innocence was serialized was different from the one in which Edith Wharton had first formed her literary ambitions.
  • 21 - Twain, class, and the Gilded Age
    pp 365-379
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.025
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Many of the key authors of nineteenth-century fiction began their careers as travel writers: William Dean Howells's first success was Venetian Life. Mark Twain's first book was the story of his journey to the Holy Land on an excursion sponsored by Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church, The Innocents Abroad. In Roughing It, Twain's flexible skill in yarn-spinning indicates the extent to which his new middle-class readership was making itself up: improvising, dreaming, and fabricating a future and an identity in the new cultural space the West opened up. Twain begins The Gilded Age with thinly disguised autobiography. Ultimately, the American novel is less a straightforward satire of grossly speculative parvenus on behalf of a moral middle class than a kind of fantasy compromise with the new cultural and economic order. Generations of readers have responded positively to the moral education undergone by Twain's protagonist.
  • 22 - Dreiser and the city
    pp 380-392
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.026
  • View abstract
    Summary
    In a 1925 essay Chicago School sociologist Robert E. Park asserts that the city is something more than a congeries of individual men and of social conveniences, streets, buildings, tramways, and telephones. The American city novel depicts the blurring of the boundaries between the self and the city, and between self and society, as creating the conditions for an independence that elicits both desire and fear. Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie is a typical example. This chapter suggests how the American city novel tradition affirms the possibilities, and marks the historical limits, of urban modernity and the democratic individualism associated with it. It also discusses Horatio Alger's double-dealing which generated the ire evident in satires and attacks by Stephen Crane, James Thurber, and Henry Miller. Naturalist city novels at the turn of the century such as Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets explore the dangerous independence of urban life.
  • 23 - Novels of civic protest
    pp 393-408
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.027
  • View abstract
    Summary
    According to Upton Sinclair, intellect and hard-earned craft qualified him to make a definitive statement on art, which is to say, on propaganda. Propaganda entered common parlance after 1918, and Sinclair's emphasis on its possibilities for advocacy risks lexical enmeshment in a much more sinister popular connotation. Sinclair's The Jungle of civic protest worked even though it did not accomplish its intended goal. In sum, the art of the American novel was to be a force for positive, activist social change. Novels of civic protest speak in tones of extreme urgency and, in addition, typically make it a real thing in powerful one-dimensional images. As a novel of civic protest, John Grisham's The Appeal is optimally viewed within a larger realm of public discourse. Public officials, clergy, investigative journalists, academics, and others exerted pressures for social change. Novels of civic protest have been a significant part of this campaign literature.
  • 24 - Novels of American business, industry, and consumerism
    pp 409-425
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.028
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Economic reform novels, success novels, and consumer fiction novels aim to attach familiar meanings, emotional significance, and, for literary naturalists at the turn of the century, philosophical and aesthetic import to the vertiginous economic changes transforming American culture and rendering it, in the eyes of older observers, unrecognizable. William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham focuses on business themes. It showcases his emerging ideas about realism in its refusal to reduce the businessman to flat caricature and its equally novel treatment of the complexities of moral action in a contingent, exemplified by the stock market. Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie represents a major turn in the history of novels of American business, industry, and consumerism. A popular novel like George Barr McCutcheon's Brewster's Millions cheerily makes peace with modern consumerism by dramatizing how it serves, rather than subverts, the older economic morality.

Page 1 of 3


A selected bibliography
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